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Brian O'Driscoll staying cool ahead of record-breaking appearance

By Niall Crozier

Brian O'Driscoll is poised to create rugby union history. On Saturday, when Ireland's mercurial centre runs out at the Aviva Stadium to face Italy in the Six Nations, he will become the most capped international player of all time, surpassing the 139 Tests record he currently shares with Australia's George Gregan.

The Wallaby tweeted his congratulations when O'Driscoll equalled his record at Twickenham a week and a half ago. As of Saturday, the Irish ace goes top of the pile.

Adding to the occasion is the fact that this will be his final international appearance in Dublin. He is retiring at the end of the season and with only the game against France in Paris on March 15 to go, Saturday promises to be an emotional occasion.

He is playing that down, of course. As ever, his approach is totally professional.

"It doesn't feel any different, it's just hard when you just want to get on with it," he said, suggesting that he could do without the inevitable fuss.

"Yeah, I'm excited a lot about a home game for sure in that it will be one to remember, but at the same time and more importantly it's about putting us in position to win the Six Nations. That's really been the main focus. I won't think about the final games until it's done and dusted and I'll reflect on it afterwards.

"I'm not really that emotional a person, so I won't allow the build-up to it to affect me; what will happen will affect me organically.

"You just have to go with the flow, I'm sure aspects will be difficult and I'll be sad but..."

Twelve months ago, after the French game, everyone – O'Driscoll himself included – thought that had been his final hurrah.

"I think there was emotion last year after France," said the Irish 13, who is not prone to displaying that side of his personality.

"I probably did think at the time that was it, but a couple of different factors convinced me to play another season."

Arguably the biggest of those factors was the appointment of Joe Schmidt as Ireland's head coach. Having worked under the New Zealander at provincial level, O'Driscoll was tempted to give one more season.

"I would be lying if I said otherwise," he conceded when pressed on the subject.

"I enjoyed my previous three years with him at Leinster and I didn't want to miss out on something he might bring to the national set up. I wanted one year to taste what that was."

When asked directly if Schmidt was the reason he had played on, O'Driscoll boxed cleverly in replying: "They're your words. I know they are – that's why I am not saying yes to it. Joe was a factor, for sure, in me playing this year, but there were other factors."

Stand-out international games and occasions in Dublin? Too many to narrow it down.

"Croker's a big one," he said, highlighting England's appearance at the GAA's Croke Park headquarters in February 2007.

"I think the big victories are the ones that stand out, of course. Beating England four times on the bounce in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 were big victories because of the pedigree of the team you are playing against.

"And then South Africa and Australia – those one-off wins. But moreso, it is really about the ones that led to silverware, be it the Triple Crown or the Slam.

"I don't really look back and think about what the great days were or what particular moments. I think you remember the laughs that you have with your team-mates – some of the best memories are the ones in the dressing room after games, not actually out on the park.

"Just being in really high spirits, that is something unique that is hard to replace. It's just us. I think you can be yourself amongst your team-mates, particularly when you've played with them for a long time.

"When we did win silverware, it had been a long road towards winning it – particularly the Championship in 2009."

If Ireland beat Italy on Saturday in his last-ever Dublin international, that would set them up for the second title of his career.

And that, he insisted, is all that matters. No 'i' in team.

Belfast Telegraph


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