O’Driscoll made us contenders: O’Connell
Despite Paul O'Connell's unwitting best efforts to smash his captain into another dimension with a careless knee to the head in Twickenham, Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll will lead his troops out for the 62nd time on Saturday against Wales to earn his 100th cap.
And O'Connell spoke for all his team-mates when he alluded to O'Driscoll's talismanic presence in the side for over a decade, during which time Ireland have been transformed from European rugby's laughing stock into Grand Slam champions.
“It's incredible,” enthused the pack leader and O'Driscoll's successor as Lions captain. “He talks a lot about people leading by example and that's what he does more than anyone.
“Your best player very often isn't your greatest defender or your greatest tackler, but Brian's biggest strength has been his defence and his ability to poach on the ground.
“He takes unbelievable punishment for a guy who would be considered a flamboyant player. He takes unbelievable punishment in the tackle and the ruck. For a team it's inspiring and it's a great way to lead a team.
“He's set a standard for players across the board. He's a complete player and that's what everybody aspires to be, the complete player both in defence and attack.
“Irish rugby struggled in the 1990s and we play with a lot more confidence now. A lot of that confidence has come on the back of Brian's play and his attitude.”
Backs coach Alan Gaffney endorsed the squad's admiration for the Blackrock College maestro.
“He's right up there,” said the Australian. “There is very little that he lacks and particularly in the courage stakes. He's a fantastic player, and he's right up there amongst the very, very best I've seen.”
O'Driscoll (pictured) will be fit to take his place in Ireland's midfield despite the sickening blow to the head received after an hour of the brutishly physical encounter against England in Twickenham.
Wales have been operating a quasi-cricketing approach to their championship — putting the opposition into bat allowing a first-half deficit to accrue before beginning a breathless run-chase — but the suggestion is that they will be much more physical from the off this week, their back-row selection a keen indicator ahead of today's team announcement.
However, Gaffney confirmed that Ireland won't necessarily tailor their approach to counter a different Welsh approach, instead retaining confidence in their own strength in depth.
“We've got a great make-up of the team. It can handle all situations so I don't think that will come into it to any great degree,” he said.
“There's no doubt Wales like to play an expansive game, from touchline to touchline.
“It's a concern and you've got to defend it well. But we've played against it before and we've handled it well in the past.”