Paul O’Connell happy to take the Twickenham pitch with Brian O’Driscoll by his side
‘I’d take Brian O’Driscoll now in terms of the experience and intelligence than Brian O’Driscoll when he first came on to the scene’
Devin Toner (centre) gives Paul O’Connell a piggyback during Ireland training at Carton House, Maynooth, yesterday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Near the end of Paul O’Connell’s rare but welcome presence among reporters he was asked about an entirely different type of huddle than what surrounded him yesterday.
We were reselling the Reaching for Glory documentary from 2007. You may have seen the all too brief glimpse into what Ronan O’Gara labelled his “psychotic” nature before and during games.
“F**king. Manic. Aggression.” O’Connell roared before leading Ireland out against France at Croke Park. “Did you scare anyone? Did you put the fear of God into anyone?”
Manna from heaven for the satirist. His best few lines on that DVD though came at half-time against England. Despite Ireland leading 23-3, an awfully fresh looking O’Connell realised something.
“There is no one here who is f**king tired. I feel I haven’t f**king played yet. You know what I mean? There is f**king so much more in us. We should be talking about putting up a f**king score here. Not their purple patch. We should be going bananas now for 40 minutes.”
So they did.
When this was relentlessly revisited upon him yesterday O’Connell looked around the room like any sane person would on entering a house party off the South Circular road at 4am of a Sunday morn.
“Ah, it’s embarrassing really. That’s at least eight years ago (sic). Dressing rooms are a lot quieter now. I think the way rugby has gone it is about making sure you prepare to the best of your ability and looking after your own job with as much physicality and intensity as you can.
“I suppose back then there was a certain leadership group that had to prepare the team and drive on the team. That’s faded a little bit, I think.
“You look even at the bench that comes in at the weekend. They’ll know their role inside out. They know they are probably going to come on for a 20-, 15- or 10-minute period and know they have to make a big impact. I think it has drifted away a little from the time of that video.”
There was some talk about Twickenham and the ever improving Courtney Lawes but this being the last time Ireland’s greatest ever players will face England together, his words on Brian O’Driscoll are the most deserving of our remaining ink.
‘Onto the scene’
“I’d take Brian O’Driscoll now in terms of the experience and intelligence than Brian O’Driscoll when he first came on to the scene. He’s probably able to make things happen even more now,” he said.
Going further still, O’Connell believes O’Driscoll’s legacy is already evident within the current squad. “From an Irish rugby point of view he spread confidence across the whole set-up. I suppose I grew up watching Ireland in the 1990s and maybe that confidence wasn’t there when an Irish team took the field.
“I think any team that takes the field with Brian in it always feels they have a chance of winning.
“You see that confidence now spread across the provinces. You see guys like Johnny Sexton who have watched Brian and learned from Brian.
“There are a lot of people who have come through now who have moulded themselves on him a little bit and see this is what you need to be to be the all round rugby player.
“I think that leads to an Irish team, while we haven’t had the success we would have liked, I think there is a lot of leadership and a lot of capability going forward that when Brian is finished that confidence will remain in the Irish squad and set-up.
“As well as that, what he does on the pitch I think is just incredible. It’s not very often your best attacker is your best defender but Brian is that. He is an incredible poacher, he’s brilliant at the ruck. He has great work ethic, a very unselfish player as well.
“He is actually a very understated and quiet guy as well behind it all. We have another three games left with him so we won’t write him off yet.”