O'Callaghan emphasises focus is now all on Argentina
When the 33-year-old Irish lock that is Donncha O’Callaghan was dropped for South Africa, despite the absence of Paul O’Connell, it seemed like the end was nigh.
It probably is, but O’Callaghan certainly doesn’t intend on letting go of the green jersey without a fight.
On Saturday night’s evidence they will have to pry it from his dying hands. His motivation for this Thomond Park run out was simple. Due mainly to a 93 Test match career, dating back to 2003, the anointed leaders in the group sought his input leading up the game.
This locked him in a bind which benefited Ireland greatly. “There was a bit of an emphasis to chat during the week,” O’Callaghan explained. “When you talk up you never want your words to be hollow so you want to put in a bit of a performance after it too. But you would respect the guys you are playing with not to treat them any different from the guys you go out with week in, week out.”
So, the new kids – some are 13 years his junior – were treated like any old warhorse he has soldiered with on this sacred patch of land. The likes of Iain Henderson would surely have banked some valuable lessons on seeing O’Callaghan fronting up when Fiji’s heavy artillery came crashing down upon the Irish ramparts.
Of course, O’Callaghan wants to keep the 6ft 6in Ulster talent in the backrow for as long as possible, especially having witnessed the steal he performed inches from the try-line as Fiji desperately went in search of a try.
“Yeh, keep everyone in the backrow! He was good. The big play for me was that reef near the goal line. It stands out. Bit of goal-line pride that he wanted to have a big moment like that and turn it over. He’s coming on, great young fella. Massive natural talent. I think he’ll get better at the level.”
Such talk brought us into Anthony Foley territory. The new Ireland defence coach will not be so grumpy this morning. Two games this November, one try conceded, and, as Jamie Heaslip remarked afterwards, the zero beside Fiji was more satisfying than the flood of eight tries. “There is a bit of a fear factor with him too. No one wants to go in Monday because Axel will put you up on the wall and nail you to it. It’s a great way to have it; everyone is responsible for their own and he holds high standards. It’s a great thing from a player’s point of view, I think it transferred on to the pitch, everyone wanted to put in a big performance.”
Then came the honesty of a man who has seen and done it all across the international rugby landscape. The success of this November comes down to beating Argentina, right?
“Absolutely. I’ll be honest with you, Fiji will be reviewed but from a player’s point of view it is nearly parked. Everyone has one eye on Argentina. It’s cup final stuff. It won’t matter what we did tonight. It’s what our November will be judged on.”
The Rugby Championship has the potential to turn the Argentina into one of the game’s superpowers and O’Callaghan knows it. “Yeh, they are so much better playing at that level week in, week out but it’s always the most physical match, there’s bad blood, there’s everything. It’s a great one.”