Smith still rates Ireland skipper
New Zealand centre Conrad Smith insists Brian O'Driscoll's playing obituary is being written far too early.
O'Driscoll's form is under scrutiny amid suggestions the 31-year-old, who was magnificent for Ireland and the Lions only last year, is a fading force. But Smith, his opposite number at Aviva Stadium on Saturday, believes the durable Ireland captain will prove his critics wrong once again.
"I rate Brian highly. When he came to New Zealand this year, him and Gordon D'Arcy were the guys who stood out again," said Smith.
"I just think he's a class player, someone I've always enjoyed watching. He hasn't always had an easy time of it against us, but that's nothing to do with him.
"He's stood the test of time. When we came up here in 2008 I was being told he's past it but then he had that amazing year with the Lions and was back to his best. I like that in a player - that's true quality."
O'Driscoll has experienced a quiet autumn so far, yet there have been few strong performers for Ireland at the midway stage of a troubled November series.
New Zealand are priced as low as 1/20 to inflict a second defeat of the month on the Irish but Richie McCaw today denied victory is inevitable.
McCaw, who along with full-back Mils Muliaina will play his 93rd Test to become the most-capped All Blacks of all time, saw moments of inspiration during their 66-28 drubbing in June.
"If we don't turn up and play properly anything can happen," said the All Blacks skipper. "I know Ireland will be better for having those two performances against South Africa and Samoa.
"When we played them during the summer they certainly played some good rugby and put us under pressure, even though they'd had a player sent off. We realise if we allow them to play rugby, they have ability."