Now entering his twelfth RBS 6 Nations campaign, Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll admits his hunger for international rugby shows no sign of waning.
“(The Six Nations) still holds as much appeal now as it ever did, if not more, probably because you don’t know how many more you are going to play in,” explained Brian O’Driscoll, ahead of Saturday’s Championship opener against Italy.
If the November internationals proved anything, it was that there is no clear front runner in northern Hemisphere rugby at the moment, something O’Driscoll sees continuing into the Championship.
“This particular Six Nations, I see it being very open. It is hard to put a favourites’ tag on anyone. That heightens the expectation for both players and the public.
“The mood in camp is about general excitement, about starting on Saturday and hopefully getting off to a good start.”
At Stadio Flaminio, O’Driscoll will line out in an Irish back-line which includes four of his Leinster colleagues, and a back-three that has an average age of 23.
The injury-enforced absence of Rob Kearney sees Luke Fitzgerald named at full-back and O’Driscoll believes that Fitzgerald, who is making just his second start as full-back for Ireland, will be a force to be reckoned with.
“When he’s really booming with confidence, Lukey’s a very, very dangerous player – both (as) an attacking player but a strategic player as well,” he said.
“He can mix his game well at full-back. Anyone who hasn’t played a huge amount of rugby over the last couple of months, you just encourage him to do the simple things well and not try to do the amazing.
“That will eventually come as the game unfolds, but early on, just starting out well and doing what he has done both provincially and internationally anytime he has been in the jersey.
“He knows himself what is expected from him and I don’t envisage any issues, but he is certainly a pleasure to play with from an attacking point of view because he has that innate ability to break tackles and offload.
“Whenever you can get a second touch having giving him a pass, it gives yourself the opportunity or the rest of the team the opportunity to continue with attacking play,” commented O’Driscoll, before turning his attention to Munster’s Keith Earls.
“In fairness to Earlsy, he has become seasoned enough to feel his input is as important as anyone else’s which it absolutely is.
“He was adding to the menu of plays as much as anyone else was this week. It is an Irish style we are looking at. We realise what way we want to play the game collectively.
“It is not about units coming together from provinces and playing their brand. We are playing an Irish style and we sat down a long time ago and spoke about what way we want to play this game, internationally, and we are all buying into that, so Earlsy again is such a great footballer he could fit in to any back-line.”
The selected back-line also includes debutant Fergus McFadden, who has been rewarded after stepping up to the mark with Leinster this season when injury struck both Fitzgerald and Kearney.
O’Driscoll has watched McFadden and others develop within the Leinster Academy and is not surprised by his call-up to the Test team.
“You’re always aware of the younger guys in the Academy who are tipping away and have big potential. I suppose training with guys, the more you see of them, the more you realise their talent.
“In the Churchill (Cup), Fergus was player of the tournament over there when Ireland won the competition in the summer of 2009. He has really just stepped it up since then.”
If the Churchill Cup launched McFadden into the public light, his reputation has been enhanced this season with two excellent Heineken Cup tries, adding to three in the Magners League.
“I think from a provincial point of view, him being put out on the wing is Joe Schmidt’s thinking of getting your best players on the pitch, and your most attacking players,” added O’Driscoll, who will captain Ireland for the 71st time this weekend.
“Sometimes they are out of position and sometimes you have to balance that up for getting your most attacking weapons out on the pitch.
“That is where he has fitted in this year and I think Fergus, along with some of the other guys, are really coming through and putting pressure on some of the older heads, which is great.”