‘Flattered’ O’Driscoll plans perfect party
With this being Brian O’Driscoll’s big day, it says something for the regard in which Wales coach Warren Gatland’s holds the Irish captain that he has called a ceasefire in the war of words he declared 12 months ago.
It was during his term as Ireland coach that Gatland gave O’Driscoll his first cap back in 1999. Today the Irish captain wins his 100th.
Gatland says he is “happy and proud” to have launched O’Driscoll’s remarkable international career against Australia in Brisbane in June 1999.
Former Wallaby midfielder Tim Horan — against whom O’Driscoll made his international debut that day 11 years ago — recalled: “As soon as he touched the ball you could see how much talent he had.”
Croke Park will rise as one to applaud O’Driscoll at 2.25pm today as he enters the playing arena for what will be the Celtic rivals’ first meeting since Ireland’s Slam-clinching Millennium Stadium victory over Wales in March 2009 when Gatland infamously upped the ante by making pre-match remarks which caused deep offence on this side of the Irish Sea.
Rightly or wrongly, his comments were interpreted as being swipes at Irish coach Declan Kidney.
Yesterday a more conciliatory Welsh coach said: “I just want the rugby to do the talking. I haven’t said anything negative about Ireland, nor will I.
“Brian’s achievement has been absolutely fantastic.
“Personally it’s brilliant for himself and his family and for Ireland.”
On this occasion Gatland and his Irish counterpart were in harmony, with Kidney calling his outstanding skipper “the consummate professional”.
Today belongs to the current IRB World Player of the Year and no-one playing alongside or against him will begrudge the Irish number 13 his big moment.
Certainly the 83,000 who pack Croke Park won’t, for no player of this generation has given them more pleasure, moments of magic or honest endeavour than BOD.
As a Dubliner in his home town this week he mused: “It’s great to be back playing at Croke Park; the pitch is in excellent condition and we’re really looking forward to playing our final two games (of the 2010 RBS 6 Nations Championship) there.”
Reflecting on the significance of a century of Irish appearances O’Driscoll said: “I’ve been very flattered with the tributes on the occasion of my 100th cap.
“I have had lovely texts from former team-mates and it’s been very humbling.”
But his subsequent line went a long way towards explaining why those comrades-in-arms have sent their best wishes, for as he looked ahead to today’s game he added: “I’ll prepare the same way as I do for every match because not to do so would be unfair to my team-mates.
“The best way for me to celebrate on Saturday is to help Ireland beat Wales and that will be my sole focus.”
That’s focus, that’s comradeship, that’s leadership, but amidst all the applause and backslapping, one could be forgiven for forgetting that there is a game on.
Wales captain Martyn Williams hasn’t, however, witness his aside: “It’s not nice to be thinking in terms of spoiling Brian’s party, but we’re here to win a match.”
In the countdown to today’s clash the bouquets have been plentiful.
Ireland defence coach Les Kiss said of O’Driscoll: “The superlatives are vast for someone of his calibre.
“The main thing is that his actions have always spoken for him. I think I speak on behalf of Gert (Smal, the Irish forwards’ coach) in saying that he’s one of the best players we’ve worked with, based not only on his game, but also how he prepares.”
Former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio said the Irish number 13 “is a superb player,” Lions coach Ian McGeehan described O’Driscoll as having “all the gifts a great centre requires,” and current Irish colleague and fellow-Lion, Ulster’s Stephen Ferris, reckoned “he’s a world-class player and a fantastic leader”.
Significantly Ferris added: “I think he’ll put in a massive performance this weekend in winning his 100th cap.”
Wouldn’t that cap it all perfectly?
While the tributes came his way, O’Driscoll was still happy to
find the good in others, hailing Wales fly-half Stephen Jones as the best Welsh player he has ever faced.
“When you look at the best players you have played against, you have to look at consistency,” said O'Driscoll.
“Guys who have been there for a long time. So, I think it's probably Steve Jones.
“He's managed to remain in a pretty hot jersey in Welsh rugby. The number 10 for Wales — there has always seemed to be a streamline of them coming through.
“He's just a hugely confident guy in his own ability. He inspires confidence around him and he's just quite the player. So, I'd say it was probably Steve.”