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Brian O'Driscoll: Don't be thinking I'll go quietly...

By Niall Crozier

The sand is flowing quickly through the egg-timer on Brian O'Driscoll's career. He turned 35 last week – January 21 – and he knows the day when he calls quits on an outstanding career is fast approaching.

With 128 Ireland appearances to his credit, all bar one of them as a starter, this weekend sees him poised to overhaul Ronan O'Gara's record. But his focus is on the team rather than on himself. That's Drico, or BOD if you prefer. A team player.

Typically, he has words of encouragement for others who may be eyeing his shirt. There is no shortage of candidates willing to wear 13. He describes one of them – Robbie Henshaw – as "a huge talent who has a big career ahead of him."

Then he adds: "You know, I enjoy that aspect and get a big kick out of it – when you see the improvements even in someone who could potentially replace you."

O'Driscoll reckons Ireland are in pretty good shape at outside-centre.

"I think they're okay, I think they're okay," he says.

"There are lots of guys who can play there and we're very much focused in Ireland at the moment on guys being able to play in more than one position.

"You look at Earlsy (Keith Earls) – he can play 13 and play there well if he gets a good crack at it. Lukey (Marshall) can play there, Robbie is obviously playing there now for Connacht and Jared (Payne) comes into the mix come November."

Having highlighted two Ulster players, he quickly includes a third, adding: "And it goes without saying Darren (Cave) played 12 at the weekend. He can play both 12 and 13 and he's been one of the form players.

"At one point he was dropped by Ulster and Jared was playing 13. And then, through fortune, through injury, he's been back in and been probably one of the form 13s in Ireland this year."

Since earning his first cap in June 1999, Ireland's only series win was the 2009 Grand Slam. Incredibly, in each of the Triple Crown years – 2004, 2006 and 2007 – they were runners-up in the Six Nations.

Asked if that is a record which leaves him feeling disappointed, he replies: "Yeah, I would say that's fair. I would say it's disappointing – considering the calibre of players – the number of seconds we got.

"Unfortunately we've been second a lot of times. I think it is fair to say that out of 14 seasons to have only won one championship is a bit of a disappointment.

"But there are always possibilities when you are walking into another one," he adds.

Reflecting on what the Six Nations Championship means, he says: "It's different to everything else, because there is silverware to be won at the end of it. And I don't mean the silverware that is there between two teams. Like, I think there is something there for when we play New Zealand, but I couldn't tell you the name of it!

"The Six Nations trophy has been around a long time – granted, it has gone from five to six – but it is definitely a competition that is very difficult to win.

"That heightens the excitement of the players and also of each of the countries and their supporters and the realisation of the Grand Slam, or the second best of trying to win the championship, is a very hard thing to come by.

"If you're in the mix come the last weekend, to do that then you must have done okay and played some good stuff," he reasons.

Forget that he has seen it all before. O'Driscoll is no dismissive 'been there, done that' merchant. Yes, he might have the T-shirts but this still matters. A lot. The fire still burns; clearly he is looking forward to what lies ahead. And he is in good nick for it.

"Yeh, I think I'm a lot more match-sharp," he says. "I feel in good condition injury-wise. I'm not carrying anything so it would be great if I could get through a Six Nations intact that way but, yeh, I suppose I am in as good a place as I would hope to be.

"Form has been good and improvable but there is always scope for improvement no matter how you are playing. I'm just excited about being in this environment, it is nice to mix things, change things up in mid-season and have a new target to aim for."

One's ears prick up on hearing the maestro talk of improvement. Asked to elaborate, he explains: "I haven't had my hands on the ball a huge amount over the last few weeks so I'm going to try and do that a bit more and take people on and beat them.

"It is not about trying to star – it is about doing the job as best you can, being a cog in the wheel and trying to play to your strengths."

He is sure his focus will not drift with this being his Six Nations swansong.

"I can guarantee it won't," O'Driscoll says. "I've never been a person to look far ahead and having experienced multiple Six Nations it is a competition of momentum – and you can't get momentum from game three in, you have momentum from early on.

"I can't predict what's going to happen over the next six or seven weeks, so you are best off living in the moment because you genuinely don't know when it is your last.

"My focus is definitely on trying to achieve a Six Nations and, of course, trying to win a second Grand Slam.

"If you offered me a Triple Crown-only now, I'd probably say 'No'."

Hurt remains over ruthless Gatland's axe

By Ruiadhri O'Connor

There are still 11 days to go until Warren Gatland's Wales take the field at Lansdowne Road but 'Operation Diffuse the Hype' is well under way.

Ireland play Scotland and Wales face Italy this weekend, but those feel like curtain raisers before the main event. The players can take things one game at a time, but everyone else has eyes on Saturday week.

The fixture was the first of Ireland's home games to sell out and, despite old rivalries with England and France, it captured the imagination as soon as news broke that Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip would not be in the Lions team to face Australia in the third Test in July.

Since then, the reports from Wales are that the fury from Ireland got on the wicks of those inside the camp who firmly believed that Jonathan Davies and Toby Faletau deserved their place in the team.

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Brian O'Driscoll will never forget how Lions coach Warren Gatland robbed him of one of the highlights of his career

Meanwhile, the issue has lingered beneath the surface here with O'Driscoll raising it once again in a Sky Sports interview, before both men went on the Late, Late Show to try and dampen down what most see as a grudge match.

Yesterday, the former Ireland captain did his part in nipping controversy in the bud by staging what is likely to be a rare Six Nations media appearance early and with plenty of time before Wales come to town.

Fourteen years at the top of the rugby tree have left the 35-year-old a savvy operator and, by getting in and out of the spotlight early and dampening down any ill-will with the man who gave him his international debut back in a different century, he played a smart PR move.

Last week, Gatland used the launch of the Six Nations to speak fondly of Ireland and reveal that he had light-heartedly asked that O'Driscoll do what he could to stop the home crowd booing him at Lansdowne Road.

Well, his former charge didn't exactly make a direct plea, but he did enough to suggest he has moved on from the incident and the implication was that we all should too.

"That's why I'm here this week," he said with a wry smile when the topic eventually reared it's head at yesterday's press conference in Maynooth.

"I don't really pay that much attention. What happened happened, I don't have any ill will towards Warren. It was raw at the time, but time heals wounds and I don't have any animosity towards him.

"I just want to be involved in a team that can beat his team, but that's next week. I can't get into a different team's mentality, but they've Italy this week and I'm sure they're focused on that."

All other attempts to raise the subject were met with a verbal version of that neat side-step.

Whether the two men's attempts to move on will work remains to be seen. Certainly, there is unlikely to be any vitriol aimed at the New Zealander's direction, while booing is hardly the style at Lansdowne Road.

However, a lot of people were hurt on their crowd favourite's behalf back in July. Gatland might not have to face any invective, but the Irish crowd love nothing more than a cause to get in early and bring the noise.

The debate will rumble on, the protagonists will rise above but the niceties will stop come 2.30pm on Saturday week – it is set to be unmissable.

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