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O’Driscoll Ready To Give His All

O’Driscoll Ready To Give His All

Brian O’Driscoll will move back above his good friend Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s most-capped player if he is selected for the RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland. It is an accolade he will be increasingly proud of in years to come, but of more pressing concern to him is starting the 2014 Championship with a win.

Entering the final few months of his professional rugby career, Brian O’Driscoll does not want to leave the international area with regrets as he embarks on his final tilt at Six Nations glory.

The legendary centre, who turned 35 last week, admits he is fully focused on his rugby and the coming weeks of Championship battle – with plenty of time to think about his post-playing career later in the year.

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“I don’t want to look back in a year’s time and regret not having given this time everything. That’s why I am focused solely on my rugby – all other thoughts are on the back burner,” he said, speaking at the squad base in Carton House.

“Before Christmas I started thinking too much about the ‘afterlife’ (what I’m going to do after rugby). There’s no rush. I’ll just enjoy the Six Nations and the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup, and hopefully I can try to win some silverware.

“I was really unsure last year and there were some strange emotions, but it is nice knowing that you can empty the tank in this Six Nations knowing it will be the last one.

“When it is all done and dusted, when the boots are hung up, there will be plenty of time over the summer and months after to see what the next plan is.”

While O’Driscoll, who is set to win a record-breaking 129th Ireland cap this weekend, may have put off thinking about life after rugby, there was time to reflect on his long spell as Ireland captain compared to his current status in the team.

The yearly trip to London for the Six Nations launch, weekly press conferences and the stress that goes with the captaincy role – both on and off the pitch – is something of the past, but being a leader remains.

“From my own point of view, it is probabaly a little less stressful. I have always said that it is probably easier to be a leader when you don’t have the captain’s armband than when you do have it. There is less expected of you.

“When you are not captain there is an extra onus on you to make sure you are helping out and you are sharing that workload.

“I would always have hoped that as captain and now that I am not, I would always try and give Paulie (O’Connell), our current captain, a dig out wherever I can and take a little bit of stress of him being the only voice.”

There are a number of potential Six Nations debutants in the Irish camp in Maynooth, and of course heading the coaching ticket this time is another Championship newcomer in Joe Schmidt.

O’Driscoll welcomes the high level of competition fostered by Schmidt’s regime, insisting that it keeps the more established players on their toes and gives the fresher faces plenty to aim for – even if making that initial breakthrough is getting more difficult.

“I’ve never been certain that I was going to be a starter under Joe and it’s a good way to be from a player’s point of view. It keeps you sharp, makes sure you are focused, makes sure you know your detail,” explained the Dubliner.

“It (nailing down a starting place) is much more difficult than when I broke into the team in the late nineties and trying to establish yourself as a 20 or 21-year-old.

“There are always going to be exceptions to the rule – Robbie Henshaw is 21 and he has already been capped.

“I think there are fewer of those guys coming through such is the competition in each place. Both physically and mentally it is more difficult to get ready for international rugby than when I started out.”

And what about Schmidt, the New Zealander who played no small role in O’Driscoll staying on for one more year with Leinster and Ireland.

The man who brought back-to-back Heineken Cups to Leinster is now showing the same intensity as Ireland head coach and it is visible for all to see.

“He (Schmidt) has brought a lot of the traits we have seen over the last few years in Leinster, into the set-up here,” said O’Driscoll, who remains Ireland’s top try scorer (46 tries).

“That is what got him promoted to the job here, but like all good coaches, he is trying to evolve. I don’t know anyone who would do more analysis on ourselves and opposition in the coaching world, than Joe Schmidt.

“He has an insatiable appetite for the game and you can see it in his enthuasiasm on the pitch and on the training park. They are always very fluid sessions. We have strict timelines as to how long we spend out on the park.

“If we run over he doesn’t insist on us staying out for an extra half hour. You’ve got that time to get it right, so get it right.

“That mentality switches into the players very quickly and we are able to produce, more often than not, what he’s looking for and what he is demanding.”

So as he looks forward to his final Six Nations campaign, the dream scenario would be to sign off with a second Grand Slam. But O’Driscoll knows full well how difficult it is to complete the clean sweep.

“Most years you think a Grand Slam win is unlikely. It is a bloody hard thing to do because of the calibre, because how close each game tends to be now and definitely with the improvement of Italy in recent years – they have beaten everyone bar in England in the Six Nations.

“You know that teams are capable of beating each other. You look at the calibre of all six teams involved. For one team to win all five games it is going to take a huge effort.

“That is why we have two of them (Grand Slams) and that is why there isn’t one every year because invariably someone gets up a little bit more than the in-form team and manages to topple them.”

Previewing Sunday’s showdown at the Aviva Stadium, he describes first round opponents Scotland as ‘an awkward team to play, particularly in the tackle area and in defence’.

“They’re about slowing ball down and getting the outside line. They are trying to develop and play a more expansive game, you can see it in their Rabo teams and you have to adapt knowing that’s coming at you.

“And they are passionate. When they pull on the Scotland jersey they’re always passionate and if they are in the game in the last 15 minutes, they can be hard to shake.

“If you look at the last four years we’ve shared the spoils, so we have a healthy respect for them. We feel and believe that we are capable of beating them, but you don’t get results from expectation – you have to deliver.”