Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt hailed record Test caps holder Brian O’Driscoll after he played a vital role in Saturday’s 46-7 RBS 6 Nations triumph over Italy.
The seven-try scucess sets up a Championship decider in Paris against France and Joe Schmidt was relieved as his side clinched a valuable win that puts them in control of their destiny as they lead the Six Nations table on scoring difference.
“It’s always a relief when you get what you need out of a game. We needed to win and ideally to win well,” he said.
“There was a nice little set play that ‘the magician’ (Brian O’Driscoll) managed to get the ball out nicely, perfectly-timed and set up Johnny (Sexton) to get the space, to get the 7-0.
“We put a lot of pressure on and didn’t get the reward. The one thing we felt at half-time is if we could maintain that intensity and that pressure, then the cracks would have to appear.
“We just needed to be patient enough to do that. I said during the week we might have to be patient, that they weren’t going to capitulate for us and we would have to earn the win before we earned the right to chase anything like a differential.”
Commenting on O’Driscoll’s world record 140th Test appearance and the centre’s last home game for Ireland, Schmidt added: “It was an incredibly special day (for Brian). He made it special because he had a hand in three tries.
“His ability to get into space, to get the right pass away at the right time even if he creates a pass that is not out of the textbook…he is a creative man, he is courageous and he has got a bit of class about him.
“In these days of the big direct running centres, he might be the final bastion along with Gordon (D’Arcy) for the smaller centre who is a creator of play rather than a direct runner.”
Team captain Paul O’Connell reiterated the New Zealander’s words but knows that with just one win for Ireland in Paris in 42 years, the size of the task ahead of them is huge.
That victory back in 2000 launched the playing career of O’Driscoll, so it is fitting that he will have the chance to win a second Championship against les Bleus next week.
O’Connell admitted: “We are in a very good place but I don’t think we are under any illusions. We have won once (in Paris) in 40-odd years. France in Paris is still a very tough proposition for any Irish team but we are getting better all the time.
“Games like two weeks ago (against England) improve us dramatically. A lot of things from two weeks ago, a lot of guys learned from, particularly guys who wouldn’t have been working under Joe for a long time.
“You learn about detail and you learn about the aggression, you execute that detail. Those things go hand in hand. We didn’t always do that two weeks ago. At times today we did. It pays off.
“In terms of going to Paris, it is going to be very tough. We are in a good place to go over and perform to the best to our ability. Hopefully that gets us a result.”
While O’Driscoll and O’Connell were on the 2009 Grand Slam winning team, there are many who have yet to win honours at senior international level. And O’Connell feels that it is time for the current Irish squad to reach another marker with victory in Paris.
“It is nice to go into the last game with a shot of winning something. Look, it is probably the last fixture you would want to have a shot of winning something. It is going to incredibly tough.
“Eoin Reddan said there is a lot of guys who haven’t won anything with Ireland. There are a small few of us who have won a few Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam.
“To put ourselves in this position it is brilliant. It is going to be incredibly tough, it is going to be incredibly physical and it is going to be very tight game. To be going to Paris with a chance of winning something is fantastic.
“We are well capable of going over and performing and winning the game. It is just a question of doing that. I felt we were well capable of going over to Twickenham, performing and winning the game as well and we didn’t do that.
“Hopefully we have learned a lot from that game. I’m sure we will learn a lot more from this game. We are capable of doing it. It will be very tough but we will look forward to it.”
Having coached in France for three years at Clermont Auvernge, Schmidt knows some of the class acts that will hope to crush Ireland’s hopes next Saturday.
Wesley Fofana, Thomas Domingo and Alexandre Lapandry all came through the Clermont Academy system and into their senior team when he was there.
The Irish coach has been impressed by new full-back Brice Dulin – dubbing him ‘their Leigh Halfpenny’ – who brings ‘a touch of class’ to the French back-line.
From an Irish perspective, the retiring O’Driscoll has nurtured the likes of Darren Cave and Robbie Henshaw as his successors in the number 13 jersey, but next Saturday in Paris could be the crowning glory for Ireland’s former captain.
“You know it exists,” said Schmidt on the chance of winning a Championship. “It is a bit like the milestone that Brian O’Driscoll achieved today, you know it exists, it’s there, it sits in the ether, but it is not the focus of what you do.
“The focus of what we do is try to, step by step, build a game-plan, build a structure that we feel can be successful.
“We are pretty pragmatic and trying to stay pretty process-focused and the history does sit there and we are conscious of it, but it wouldn’t be a distraction.”