BRIAN O’DRISCOLL sat himself down inside the sundrenched window of the lounge of the Glenview Hotel - and was immediately on his feet again.
”Let’s get these guys over with first, I don’t want to have microphones stuck in my face the whole time,” he exclaimed.
With that, he made a beeline for a line of radio personnel and told them everything they wanted to hear. Was this a signal that the dreaded scenario of a monosyllabic interview for the humble print media was about to unfold? Had the superstar of Irish rugby become too big for his boots?
Thankfully, the answer to both questions was in the negative. O’Driscoll satisfied the radio boys and promptly returned to answer everything that was thrown at him with ease and a quiet good humour.
He spoke of how terrific it was back to be back again in the Irish jersey having suffered the keen disappointment of missing out on the season opener against Italy and especially taking on the French on his beloved Lansdowne Road pitch on Saturday next.
”I have played against France at three levels and never lost and that’s a record I want to keep intact. I think we have started to get rid of our inferiority complex and we have to look into this game and be extremely hopeful of winning it. If we stick with them for a while, it’s going to mean we are setting out our stall and showing them who is boss.”
Warren Gatland, the Ireland coach, and his assistant Eddie O’Sullivan make no secret of the importance they place on the return to the side after injury of both Denis Hickie and O’Driscoll.
After his hat-trick against the French last season, O’Driscoll is certain to be the source of close attention but Gatland believes he can still do a big job for Ireland come Saturday afternoon.
”We all know his qualities and his return gives us an extra dimension and will give those around him added confidence,” said Gatland.
O’Sullivan, who has the responsibility for turning out an impeccably well oiled Irish back division, commented: ”Brian has the capacity to be a game breaker and play maker and hopefully will cause the French a lot of headaches.”
But O’Driscoll is under no illusions about the extent of the challenge: ”Any team that beats New Zealand has to be good,” he insisted. ”They can turn it on when they want to and there is no better example than the way they looked after the All Blacks. True, they can blow hot and cold and so hopefully this will be one of their colder weeks. I know for a fact after we beat them last year that people were saying Irish teams prior to that had been getting on the plane with damage limitation rather than victory in their heads.
”I think last year quashed that and confidence builds with winning, you only have to go back to the Munster example and the fact that they have got into a habit of winning and we have come to understand that if you are still in a game in the last 15 minutes it can really go any way and it’s a matter of sticking with them for a long as possible.”
People who know their rugby had realised that O’Driscoll’s talent was a very precious one well before his tour de force against Les Bleus last April. That afternoon, he destroyed N’Tamack and the rest and he suspects it might have helped that he and many other members of the side had never lost to the French.
”We certainly went over there believing we could win,” he said.
”Again it’s a confidence thing, we were coming off two victories and playing pretty good rugby and knew we could cause them problems. That hat-trick will make it more difficult for me on Saturday. I’ll be something of a marked man but I know they’re not stupid. They’ll know that Denis Hickie is back and Hendo (Rob Henderson) got three against Italy so basically they want to keep their eyes open and watch everybody. Perhaps this will be Girvan Dempsey’s week, they would be silly to be single minded where I’m concerned.”
There is little doubt that O’Driscoll will come in for a lot of attention on Saturday but if they overdo it, then Eddie O’Sullivan is confident the other Irish backs will take advantage. O’Driscoll agreed: ”Hendo had a huge game in Rome. I just heard he made 18 tackles which is quite phenomenal but he also does a lot of under cover work and he had his reward against the Italians.”
Defence is a huge part of the modern game is an area where O’Driscoll’s quality tends to be underestimated because of his brilliance in attack. However, a big tackle he made early in the Paris game last season and another for the Barbarians against South Africa before Christmas had a galvanising effect on those around him and clearly it’s a facet of the game that gives him a lot of satisfaction.
”Obviously you try to make every tackle count but of course it depends on the circumstances,” he pointed out. ”Defence is a huge part of my game and I may have a point to prove because I’m not one of the biggest centres on the international scene. You often need a spot tackle to lift a team, Hendo has often done it. As for attack, I love playing in this Irish back line. It’s why I play rugby, I don’t play it to chase Garryowens, I play it to get ball in hand and throw the ball around and create excitement for the crowd and the guys playing with me and for rugby in general.
“I’m not saying chasing Garryowens is not part of my game because it is going to be sometimes, it’s just that I prefer having the ball in hand rather than running after kicks. Peter Stringer’s service is one of the best around speed wise, his pass is just whipped out while Ronan O’Gara reads the game exceptionally well and has come on even since last year. In training over the past couple of day, he’s taken more and more control and while I know he’d be the first to agree he still has a lot to learn, he’s really developing as an outside half. His passing is one of his stronger points and that’s what you want as an outside centre.”
O’Driscoll will tell you that the players themselves accept that they didn’t hit the high spots in Rome but they still scored three great tries. He insists that the demotion of Shane Horgan and Mike Mullins is proof of the strength in depth in the team and while he won’t say how many matches they expect to win this season, he insists there must be no going back on the three won last season.
It cannot always have been easy for O’Driscoll, who celebrates his 22nd birthday in eight days time, to cope with all the celebrity status.
”It comes in peaks, it has picked up now for the Six Nations and a bit before the Barbarians game. But there was a lull before that and during the summer you’re unheard of and that’s ideal, though, hopefully not this summer.”