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Brian O'Driscoll has set new benchmark

o'connell hails o'driscoll as the mould fellow professionals want to emulate

By Niall Crozier

Ireland are insistent that the Brian O'Driscoll factor will not distract them from this afternoon's primary objective – beating Italy and heading to Paris for the final match of the 2014 Six Nations as championship leaders.

Today, in what will be his final Test appearance in his home city, O'Driscoll creates history by becoming the most capped player in world rugby.

And while Ireland recognise they must concentrate on the task in hand, they know that is not going to be easy. Every eye and camera will be on O'Driscoll and each time he gets the ball the crowd will react in the hope of seeing him produce another of the many moments of magic to which he has treated them en route to Test appearance number 140.

Ahead of this afternoon's showdown with the Italians, Irish captain Paul O'Connell hailed his team-mate as the total package.

"I don't think anyone is irreplaceable, but he is one of a kind," said the big lock who today makes his 91st appearance for Ireland.

"And he has certainly broken the mould in so far as I don't think I have ever played with such a complete player in every way."

Detailing the ingredients which have combined in the creation of Ireland's best-ever all-round player, O'Connell continued: "It's his leadership, his competitiveness, his defence, his tackling, his attack.

"He's broken the mould, but I think that is a mould that other players look at now and want to fill themselves.

"They want to be like him and if you look at Jonny (Sexton) now at out-half, he has all Brian's attributes – incredible skill, incredible competitor, brilliant defender and a great kicking game.

"You have to wonder has that come about from playing alongside Brian for so long and seeing how Brian carries himself?"

And stressing the totality of O'Driscoll game, he added: "I think the big thing is that your best attacking player isn't often your best defender as well.

"But Brian is an incredible defender. Not just an incredible tackler, but an incredible defender as well.

"He's brilliant on the ground poaching; the turn-overs he's made for Ireland down through the years on the ground have been almost as important as the tries he's scored.

"Very often your most skilful player isn't your toughest competitor as well," he said, acknowledging the sheer strength and mental as well as physical courage of the man who today becomes the world's most capped Test player.

Loose-head Cian Healy, who has played alongside O'Driscoll for Leinster as well as Ireland, highlighted the centre's ability to inspire others.

"He's one of the people who, when you're in the trenches, that leadership comes out," said Healy, who then went on to explain the example O'Driscoll and the two men who have captained Ireland in the past two seasons' Six Nations campaigns have set for others.

Pinpointing their dedication in training, Healy said: "A lot of people have changed that lately – the likes of Jamie and Paulie and Drico.

"You see all the stuff they're doing and you're sitting on the couch having a Twix..... you can't do that any more! It's a good sort of peer pressure."

Asked if he felt that is why O'Driscoll has been able to go continue at international level to the age of 35, the burly prop said: "Exactly. He's not there by accident; he has put a lot of work into it.

"You see them now starting to warm up half-an-hour or 40 minutes before the session... that's what it takes and they've no problem doing it."

The O'Driscoll factor apart, O'Connell and his players have a job to do this afternoon if they are to enter the final lap of the race for the 2014 title as leaders.

As things stand, Ireland, England, Wales and France have each won two of their three matches to date in the series so the championship is up for grabs. Currently Ireland lead by virtue of points difference.

Coach Joe Schmidt admits that winning today rather than the margin is the priority.

"The balance at the moment would be tipped massively toward the result," he said.

"One of the good things is that we've got a very smart group of men who play the game and I think we can very quickly change the shape of what we're doing.

"We've demonstrated that we can play a few different ways so far in the tournament. We can change that up a little if we need to in the last 20 or 30 minutes, or it may be at half-time we get together and maybe change a few things.

"I think sometimes if you go out trying to win everything in the first part of the game you actually frustrate yourself and you can be overly anxious. You can try overly hard and in the end it's very difficult to make things come off.

"So probably what we'd think is that we've got to be patient, we've got to be well prepared."

Meanwhile, Italian captain Marco Bortolami (pictured) had no sooner joined the chorus of celebration for O'Driscoll when he declared his country's stout intention to drown it out in today's emotive clash.

"It is some motivation for Ireland," he said of O'Driscoll's farewell on Irish soil.

"We haven't spoken about that and we have to do our job. We have to make sure we turn up. They are things in our control. We know how Ireland play.

"They are very physical and organised and I don't think they will change the way they play because Brian O'Driscoll is playing his 140th game.

"To play at the same high level for 15 years is simply an amazing record, featuring on four Lions tours as well as all the silverware he has won for.

"After the game there will be some focus on that, but we will try to destroy this party. We don't want to disrespect him, but that's sport."

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