O’Driscoll determined to grab opportunity

IT doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Ireland’s second row buddies Mick O’Driscoll and Donncha O’Callaghan face a huge examination of character in tomorrow’s Guinness Test clash with South Africa at the Aviva Stadium.

The duo face up to the most feared and respected second row combinations in world rugby, Springboks skipper Victor Matfield and his sidekick, Bakkies Botha, and O’Driscoll sees it as a challenge that will have to be met full on.

Of the two Irishmen, O’Driscoll’s international CV is the least impressive – 19 caps over a decade and only seven starts – but that has never diminished his ambition even though, for Munster and Ireland, he has had to live in the shadow of Paul O’Connell.

This week, however, he is back in the international arena and is delighted to get this opportunity for a first start against the world champions.

“The best second row partnership in the world? Yeah, they would have to be right up there. They’re just a great combination; they have everything in a combination that you would look for, they’re together for a long time and both (individually) are very good players in a very big pack.

“We have no doubt what’s facing us, Donncha and me; we have to perform to the best of our ability and hope that will be good enough.”

But far from being intimidated by the prospect, O’Driscoll can’t wait for the battle to commence and believes his experience of playing alongside O’Callaghan at Heineken Cup and Magners League level against the best in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy, England and France, can bear fruit.

His most recent European performance – in the win over Toulon – was hailed by Munster coach Tony McGahan, and the line-out improvement from previous matches was mostly credited to his input and organisation.

O’Driscoll himself likes to think there is a nice blend between himself and O’Callaghan, just as he sees there is one in the South African camp.

“For the benefit of the man in the street, technically you probably need one second row who is quite light and good in the air and one who is more of a workhorse; but both players need to be able to do a bit of everything.

“I suppose I would see the line out as one of my strengths, the active part of it and organisation of line outs is something I have done throughout my career.

“It’s no big deal for me to do it, it’s something I enjoy doing and it’s pleasing when it goes right. Of course when it goes wrong, you’re generally the person that gets the brunt and blame of it but that is all part and parcel of the game.”

Tomorrow, O’Driscoll will be charged with keeping tabs on the wily Matfield.

“It’s not like a GAA game where two opponents are in each other’s pockets and hanging out of one another for the duration of the game. I will be directly opposite him for part of the game (line-outs) and not for a lot of it.

“Of course, you do try to do some homework on your opponents, we’ll be doing analysis and I’ll be talking to Gert Smal (Ireland’s South African forwards coach), who has a bit of insider knowledge as to what he (Matfield) might try to do in various parts of the pitch, but it’s still going to be up to me as to how I perform on the day.”

Right through his career, O’Driscoll has taken a measured and pragmatic approach to making himself a better player.

His move to Perpignan, for instance, for two seasons (2003-2005) wasn’t because he wanted out of Munster; rather, he went for the experience and the opportunity to come back to Ireland a better player.

His exile was used for what it was meant; O’Driscoll was aware, for instance, that the IRFU wanted him to come home. He was in their plans.

Since his arrival home, he has participated in all of Munster’s great Heineken Cup and Magners League runs, maybe not as much as he would like, but enough to be going on with.

“In Munster, you’ve got four international locks in the squad and it stands to reason that all four can’t play in the same games.

“But, because of where Munster are (in the pecking order of Irish rugby) it stands to reason that a lot of players have a good chance of being involved with Ireland, and I’m lucky enough to be involved right now.

“Not so long ago, I was only on the bench in big matches against Leinster and London Irish; I started against Toulon and that changed everything. If somebody said to me six weeks ago I would be starting against South Africa then I probably wouldn’t have believed them, but that’s the beauty of it (the game).”

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