Former Ulster wing Tommy Bowe has branded Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll as rugby’s own version of Roy Keane.
O’Driscoll this week retained the Irish captaincy ahead of Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara for next month’s Tests against Canada, New Zealand and Argentina.
Bowe, who is preparing for the Ospreys’ EDF Cup match against Worcester on Sunday, believes the Leinster star is as pivotal for Irish rugby as Keane was for both Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland in football.
“Brian is similar to Roy Keane,” said Bowe, whose dazzling form this season should make him a certainty for a place in Ireland’s starting XV next month and a possible Lions candidate for the tour to South Africa next summer.
“When the chips are down and the team needs a moment of genius, you look to your captain to provide it. Brian definitely has that ability in his armoury. He is able to lead by example, produce magic and make things happen. He will be a great captain.”
Speculation about O’Driscoll’s position as captain began when Declan Kidney took over as Ireland coach this summer on the back of a disastrous World Cup campaign.
But O’Driscoll rediscovered the form which turned him into the British Lions captain three years ago with three tries in Leinster’s opening two rounds of the Heineken Cup against Edinburgh and London Wasps.
And Bowe expects 29-year-old O’Driscoll to fire again for Kidney’s men in the vital Autumn Tests as Ireland bid to cement a top-eight seeding for the 2011 World Cup.
“He has few weaknesses in his game but it must have been hard for him to play with all the talk of him not getting the captaincy,” added Bowe.
“He is a world class player, always gives 150 per cent and he has answered his critics with his recent form.”
Meanwhile, with fit-again Stephen Ferris expected to return to the Ulster side to face Munster at Ravenhill tomorrow night (kick-off 7.30), Connacht have the chance to open up a six-point lead on Matt Williams’ side in the dogfight for a Heineken Cup place next season by landing a bonus-point win over second from bottom Edinburgh at the Sportsground tonight (6.30).
Edinburgh and Connacht are both on eight points with Ulster in bottom place on seven with just one win from six games.
Connacht coach Michael Bradley knows this is a game his team are capable of winning and he has selected his strongest team including Gavin Duffy, Connacht's only representative in this week's Ireland squad. Indeed, exclusion from the international squad could serve as extra motivation for the likes of out-half Ian Keatley and flankers Johnny O'Connor and John Muldoon.
Injury concerns see Edinburgh coach Andy Robinson travel with eight replacements.