O’Driscoll back in fray

IRISH captain Brian O’Driscoll, along with coach Eddie O’Sullivan, has welcomed Mick O’Driscoll back into the squad after Johnny O’Connor, the specialist open-side flanker, was forced out of the squad for this afternoon’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Scotland at Lansdowne Road.

O’Connor was dramatically ruled out yesterday after incurring a groin strain and O’Sullivan’s immediate response was to call O’Driscoll back into the squad, just hours after he had been told to report home.

O’Connor’s injury is just about serious enough to rule him out for this weekend, and it affords O’Driscoll an opportunity to build upon his small haul of four caps, the last of which was won as a replacement two weeks ago against Wales.

Munster’s player of the year is not in the O’Connor specialist back-row mould, but O’Sullivan yesterday pointed out that he had played for Perpignan at number eight, and that Ireland had options available to them.

For instance, in the case of injury, O’Driscoll could come in at eight and Denis Leamy is capable of switching to six or seven.

It was not, stressed the coach, the ideal preparation, but the fact that O’Driscoll had been with the squad for several days over the last month meant that calling up Ulster’s Neil Best was not an option he wished to pursue.

For his part, the team captain remarked: “Earlier this week, Paul O’Connell’s return meant that Donncha O’Callaghan went into the replacements and Mick was excluded. It was a pity for both of them, because they are quality players. We know what Mick can do, and we’re confident that he will produce the goods if required.”

On the O’Connell issue, however, O’Driscoll is delighted to welcome back the hugely influential second row.

“It goes without saying that Paul’s successful fight for fitness is a huge boost to us this weekend. Initially, one had to feel sorry for both Donncha and Mick, but we’re very fortunate in Ireland at the moment to have four great second rows at our disposal.

“But you always have to give a guy like Paul until the 11th hour to prove his fitness because he adds that extra dimension to the team; he gives you that element of leadership that only certain players possess.”

O’Driscoll is relieved to be allowed concentrate somewhat on his primary task - that of breaking down and through the tight Scottish midfield pairing of Andrew Henderson and Marcus Di Rollo.

He described the Scottish pairing as being potentially very difficult. “They have given little or nothing away so far this season and it’s going to be hard to find the gaps.

“Henderson is an elusive runner; you don’t feel that he is going anywhere but he always does. Even after contact, you can’t be sure that he is nailed down. In the original hit, he comes out with a great leg drive and that’s possibly one of the greatest assets a player can have; the ability to keep on going when opponents think they have him.”

O’Driscoll, preparing for windy and cold, if not Arctic, conditions at Lansdowne Road today, is aware that Ireland need to be at their best.

“We still have some distance to go in so far as where our potential is. There were parts of the Welsh performance that were excellent but parts of it on which we can improve,” he said.

Scotland will pose a major threat, insists O’Driscoll, who paid tribute to their “magnificent” defence, particularly against France and England. “They were particularly offensive against England. They tackled themselves to a standstill and their counter-rucking was something else.They denied England the platform they thrive upon, and I think they will approach this game with the very same mindset,” he said.

“Pressurised rugby at this level can go one of two ways if you’re trying to play catch-up. You either sink or swim.

“I think we swam in both of our last games, but unfortunately it was too late to make a difference in Paris. We don’t want to find ourselves in that position again, and Scotland have the character to withstand a late barrage.”

Yet, O’Driscoll believes Ireland can and will win, though he accepts that there must be that improvement. “We must,” he said, “cut out those unforced errors. We could probably have scored a couple of more tries against Wales but for the mistakes. We have to learn to be more ruthless in our execution of chances.”

The captain also accepts that this RBS 6 Nations clash, the last at the old Lansdowne Road, could be tempered with emotion.

“It’s a very special ground and it will be a wrench to say goodbye. But I always try to gee up the crowd because they’re always worth between five and ten points to us when they get behind us.

“I don’t suppose there is a player in Ireland, in any code, that won’t relish the prospect of playing in Croke Park. For now, we have to get on with the job in hand.”

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