O'Driscoll still able and just as capable
SIX NATIONS: IRELAND v ENGLANDApart from being pretty useful most of the time, Brian O'Driscoll is something of a good luck charm for Irish rugby. And reasons to be cheerful when he is available, or fearful when he is not, are particularly valid when confronted by the auld enemy.
Since the coronation of England's golden generation as Grand Slam champions in the old Lansdowne Road in 2003, when winning that last-Saturday winner-takes-all shoot-out 42-6 as a precursor to winning the World Cup later that year, Ireland and England have met 10 times.
England have won three, and maybe O'Driscoll just picks them well too, but not only did he miss those Twickenham defeats of 2010 and last year through injury, as well as the World Cup warm-up defeat at the Aviva, he has played in all of Ireland's last seven wins over England in the Six Nations.
Not that he would be inclined to take credit for that remarkable sequence, nor indeed that he especially raises his game against England, having also been a part of three "serious beatings" which sandwiched the 2001 win.
"I would say I had a pretty poor game in 2004 in Twickenham when we won, when Darce had a stormer. And there's one or two other games when I would say I wasn't poor, but solid. But it's not about personal satisfaction or personal performances. It's an added bonus if you play well and you win, but trust me I was just as happy in 2004 when we won and I didn't play well."
Then he paused, and smiled broadly. "Well, maybe that's a lie."
That there is an additional edge to the impending visit of an English team is hardly unique to rugby or Ireland, and O'Driscoll attributed this in part to the way non-rugby diehards would be more inclined to tune into an Anglo-Irish encounter.
One of the best sides
"Maybe it's ingrained in our psyche, I don't know. From a young age, it depends on your parents' attitude to it, as to whether they had more of an interest when Ireland played England in soccer, cricket or rugby. For me it's always been a big game, because of the close proximity of the two countries, because of the history but largely because of the quality of England and how you want to test yourself against the best sides. And invariably they're one of the best sides in the world. Personally, that's why I look forward to playing against England."
Plenty of quality players, as well as mates, have been and gone since the 2004 win at Twickenham heralded an unexpected era of Irish supremacy in the fixture, punctuated by some great days such as the Croke Park mauling defined by Shane Horgan's try off Ronan O'Gara's cross kick. And Horgan stretching every sinew in equally momentous style for the 2006 Triple Crown; a woozy O'Driscoll burrowing over for his try en route to the 2009 Slam and even the de-railing of the chariot's quest for a Slam two years ago.
"It's a very different team," he admitted, before making a revealing comment in light of him highlighting a lack of clarity in communicating the game plan on the summer tour to New Zealand. "I'd like to think we're in a better place from a detail point of view, and an understanding point of view, and an attack game point of view."
Admittedly, this also came with a rider. "There are lots of young guys that are new to the competition and last week was their first taste of it and England in Dublin will be another first for them. And there's nothing that can prepare you for those sort of challenges."
More nervous than normal
The summer tour had been his only game time with Ireland since the World Cup as operations on his shoulder and ankle ruled him out in turn of last season's Six Nations and the November series. For this reason, he was more nervous than normal before last Saturday's early kick-off in Cardiff.
"I hadn't played an international since last summer and they weren't great memories the last time I pulled on a green jersey. So it was nice to put that right. It varies. I always encourage being nervous. It sharpens the mind and at the best of times eating spaghetti at 10 o'clock in the morning is going to be difficult. But if you've got some butterflies too, it makes it extra difficult. But I think that's part and parcel; if you don't have that at international level, there's something wrong."
Coming across as quite philosophical for his first proper audience with the media at the Carton House since being deposed as captain, O'Driscoll played a straight bat when asked if losing the captaincy had been a surprise to him.
Even if he had decided privately that this was his last Six Nations, which he has not, O'Driscoll is reluctant to publicly state as much and thereby make this a quasi-farewell tour.
He intimated that answering a BBC Wales question last week regarding his retirement, he inadvertently added to the speculation that this might be his last Six Nations, thereby making a bigger issue of his future.
Instead, he scarcely had time to think about it, preferring to live in the now, and, as ever, we can almost certainly take him at face value. This may be his last Six Nations. It may not be.
Either way, he's in a good place, with Amy due to give birth to their first child on February 17th. "It's a bigger achievement than anything I've ever done on a rugby pitch," he smiled. As the happy event is immaculately timed for the weekend between the English game and the Scottish game in a fortnight's time, it would appear Amy is going to do her bit for her country as well.
Long view From captain fantastic to . . . 48-Test partnership with Gordon D'Arcy
Did losing the Irish captaincy surprise him?
"It did and it didn't. I suppose I thought at some point maybe that would be the case. Looking forward I suppose I'm not going to be around for the 2015 World Cup so it's a good opportunity to give Jamie a good run at it.
"He's going to be around in the jersey for a considerable amount of time albeit it didn't make the decision any easier or lessen the disappointment any, when I was told."
His thoughts on the Lions' captaincy?
On making a fourth Lions tour:
"I think there's more chat about it now in general. Every week there's a new Lions team for that week, so you can't get caught up in that, and I like to think I'd be a decent judge in my own head whether I'm in the mix or not.
"It's fun too to be a Lion, it's an honour to be among the top 35 players in the home nations so you do everything you can. It's definitely an added incentive in a Lions year to get your performances to as high a level as you can."
On his interview with BBC Wales last week intimating this might be his last Six Nations
"I've always tried to answer questions honestly and not give a quote for the sake of giving a quote. I answered honestly and as a result of it I probably invited a lot more on myself without consciously really thinking of what that answer was going to do."
"I'm not really one for thinking that far ahead. I never really have been. I've always tried to enjoy the moment and live in the moment, and just get on with it. There's no point in the whole sentiment of 'oh, this is the last game'. What benefit does that have?
"It's not going to get you up any more for a game if you think it might be the last chance you have to play against a team or play in a particular stadium. It's not going to have any bearing on how you play so just ignore it."
On Manu Tuilagi
"He brings a huge physical presence, from a ball carrying point of view it's extremely effective for them because he delivers gainline.
"It's a momentum gainline that gives them good phases thereafter and if you continually soak you end up back on your own line so it's about trying to shut down that space."
On his world record, 48-Test partnership with Gordon D'Arcy:
"He's a hugely important player in my game just because of the comfort that he gives me, particularly from a defensive point of view; he's the best defensive centre that I've played with in that department.
"He offers a lot more, he's been there for many, many years and seen a lot of situations.
"It's not that we have a case of telepathy but we don't always need to speak to one another to understand the body language and what each of us are doing so that always helps a player, be it a centre partner, a winger, a ten, the more you get to understand their mannerisms their ways, how they react to situations off the back of that."