Brian O'Driscoll reckons Ireland's Under-19 squad should make the most of the forthcoming IRB U-19 World Championship as they "pitch themselves against some of the world's best underage players."
The 2006 Championship kicks off next week in Dubai and runs from Wednesday, April 5 through to the finals day on Friday, April 21. Sky Sports will have live coverage of the event with two of the Irish Under-19s' pool matches to be shown live (v England, Exiles RFC, kick-off 5.00pm, April 5; v France, Exiles RFC, kick-off 3.00pm, April 9).
Ireland senior captain O'Driscoll knows all about performing at U-19 level. The 27-year-old centre was part of the Irish squad that won the U-19 IRB-FIRA World Championship in Toulouse in 1998. Wins over holders Argentina and South Africa set up a final clash with hosts France, which coach Declan Kidney's side won 18-0 - O'Driscoll kicked a conversion and drop goal, adding to tries from Paddy Wallace, who also dropped a goal, and Darragh Holt.
Current Ireland lock Donncha O'Callaghan was also involved in the team as was Ulster scrum half Kieran Campbell, Munster prop Frankie Roche, former Leinster flanker Aidan Kearney and ex-Connacht and Leinster centre Shane Moore, who captained the side.
...Shane Moore keeps a hold of the trophy as the victorious Ireland Under-19 squad arrive back at Dublin Airport after their IRB-FIRA World Championship triumph in April 1998...
O'Driscoll said: "Obviously, I have fond memories of 1998 because we ended up eventual winners of it. The overriding memory from the whole thing was just an opportunity of playing at a very high level.
"It was the first time we got to play against some of the Southern Hemisphere nations - there was no Australia or New Zealand back then - but we played South Africa and Argentina, and up to that point, you never had that opportunity. You got a chance to pitch yourself against some of the world's best underage players. It gives you a good feeling for playing at the highest level at senior grade."
The current Irish Under-19 squad, coached by Charlie McAleese, may not go as far as "the boys of '98", but O'Driscoll believes captain David Pollock and his charges can take something from the tournament - no matter where they finish.
O'Driscoll told Total Rugby Radio: "The tournament served as a confidence builder for myself to be able to play at that high level with my own peers. Confidence can be a snowball effect - the more you get, the more difficult games you get, the more familiar you get with those surroundings so it phases you less and less.
"I think when you make the next step up to the 21s, it's not as big a leap as for those who hadn't played 19s."