O’Driscoll’s participation was thrown into doubt yesterday after missing the Captain’s Run at the match venue and failing to attend the final press conference in the afternoon.
But using his Twitter account yesterday, he posted: “What we have managed in Twickenham in the past won’t count for anything come 4.0pm tomorrow. New day, new game. I’ll be fine.”
Coach Declan Kidney also expressed confidence that O’Driscoll will start the game – although it still remains to be seen whether he or centurion John Hayes will lead the side out.
When Kidney was asked who would have that honour, he answered: “It’s a matter for the players but certainly John won’t be asking to do it.”
He was equally sanguine about O’Driscoll’s fitness. “Brian was feeling a little rough and it was prudent for him not to train,” Kidney explained. “When you don’t feel great in yourself, there’s no point in pushing it on a day like today so he stayed back in the hotel and rested up. It’s no difference to last week when a few lads also missed the captain’s run, that’s just to blow the cobwebs away after the travel yesterday. In some cases, it’s better for them not to train and that was the case with Brian today. We are quite hopeful that he’ll be alright again (today).”
Asked to definitely rule out the possibility that O’Driscoll (who is due to pick up his 99th cap today) might have been struck by a virus, Kidney patiently responded: “I don’t think any doctor is going to come in here and tell you what it is. He just feels like some of us do when we get up for work in the morning, we just don’t feel great, and also because he has a match tomorrow.”
Ireland have travelled with the original 22 along with Paddy Wallace and Kevin McLaughlin. Should the worst come to the worst, Keith Earls will move from the wing to take over from O’Driscoll at No 13, Andrew Trimble would come on the wing and Paddy Wallace will go into the replacements.
The loss of a player of O’Driscoll’s calibre and leadership qualities would obviously be a massive blow to Irish prospects. So we pressed Kidney one last time for his verdict: “I’m going to bed thinking he’s going to have a grand sleep and wakes up tomorrow looking forward to the game and that’s what the medics are telling me as well.”
Once the focus turned to the game itself, Kidney was happy to declare his confidence that Ireland would improve significantly on Paris.
“We gave credit to France because they played very well and England could turn out with their A game again tomorrow,” he mused. “We can improve our communication to one another out on the pitch. In the game in Paris, we made a huge number of little errors and that’s what cost us. We’ll be trying to get those things right on an individual and collective basis.”
Today represents a massive occasion for Geordan Murphy and Jonathan Sexton as they man the crucial full-back and out-half positions. Where experience is concerned, they’re at different ends of the spectrum, Murphy making his 64th international appearance and Sexton beginning his first Six Nations match. The difference, of course, is that this is Murphy’s first full game since last September and Sexton, while relatively inexperienced in comparison, has put together a series of fine performances.
“Of Geordan, you can say he doesn’t have much game time under his belt or say he’s fresh out and it will be a balance of the two,” commented the coach. “His experience of the venue and a number of things, we just thought he was the best fit for this game. I imagine there will be one or two in the air for him but he has shown himself to be a good man for that.”
Some regard the selection of Sexton ahead of Ronan O’Gara as a no-brainer, others as something of a risk. It certainly is a big ask for him in his first Six Nations start at Twickenham, faced as he is by the vastly experience Jonny Wilkinson.
“We’ve been trying to develop our squad and that always comes with ups and downs along the way,” said Kidney. “We’ve been trying to bring individual fellas through but all I would ask of him is that he would go out and play the same way he has all along. We have a world-class out-half in Ronan so let’s just see how Jonathan goes tomorrow.
“It’s not like Jonathan is 20 or 21 (he is 24). He has a few years under his belt and wasn’t just spring on to the stage and told, here have a go. It’s only thirteen months ago that he was subbing with Leinster and we gave him a go with the ‘A’s’ and he managed to take his chances there and the others that have come his way.
“That’s always a good sign of a person and that shines through in the way he plays. I don’t expect him to be the all singing, all dancing star tomorrow. I just expect him to go about his job as he has done over the past thirteen months.”