Captain Fantastic Brian O’Driscoll will become the latest member of Irish rugby’s 100 cap club against Wales at Croke Park on Saturday.
O’Driscoll has recovered from the bang to his head from Paul O’Connell’s knee that forced him off after 64 minutes of the win over England at Twickenham two weekends ago.
The Leinster and Lions center will now follow John Hayes into the Centurion’s Club, with many expecting O’Driscoll to become Ireland’s most capped player in time.
Like Hayes, O’Driscoll’s imminent feat has been hailed by Irish coach Declan Kidney, who first worked with him on the Ireland under-19 side, and his teammates.
Leinster flanker Jamie Heaslip, a live candidate to replace O’Driscoll as Ireland captain down the road, knows exactly what O’Driscoll has brought to the table in the 11 years since is first cap on the 1999 tour to Australia.
“There is no doubt that Brian is a hard nut,” claimed Heaslip. “It takes a lot for a forward like me to say that a back is a hard nut, but Brian O’Driscoll is.
“You can smack that boy around and he will take it and get up and look for more. When Paulie hit him last weekend he still tried to get back into the defensive line.
“You wouldn’t see him lie down unless he was hit really hard. He is right up there with Paulie as being one of the most competitive people I have ever met.”
Kidney first came across O’Driscoll’s precarious talents when the Dubliner was just a teenager -- but first impressions weren’t that great.
“I had heard a lot about Brian and spoken to coaches who had worked with him so I knew what he was about before that first under 19 international against Italy in Sutton,” recalled Kidney ahead of O’Driscoll’s landmark game.
“He was out-half that day and the Italians had a young Mauro Bergamasco playing at flanker that day, so it is fair to say that Brian wasn’t the best player on the pitch.
“But we did go on to have an exceptional year that year as well and within two years he had really come to prominence when he got the three tries against France in Paris.
“Space has been closed down for him ever since then which is one of the problems of video analysis, but Brian has been a great, great player for Ireland.”
The O’Driscoll who leads Ireland out as captain next Saturday will offer little resemblance to the wide-eyed teenager unveiled in Sutton all those years ago.
Today he is a player on top of his game and on top of the world as Ireland looks to end the season with a Triple Crown at least in the bag after the highs of last season.
Dricco is also, contends Kidney, a role model for young rugby players everywhere.
“Brian goes about his game in the right way and it has evolved too in the last couple of years,” claimed the international coach.
“He doesn’t play the same way as before but the changes are subtle. He still works at all the basics, his tackling, his kicking and his passing. He has never rested on his laurels.
“I know it is a cliché but it is a truism too – he pushes himself to the absolute limit.”
Spirit is something that sets O’Driscoll apart from his peers as well, even if at times his willingness to carry on could be regarded as reckless.
That was never more apparent than in the 64th minute at Twickenham when O’Connell’s accidental knee into Dricco’s head sent the Irish skipper crashing to the floor.
Not once but twice O’Driscoll tried to get up and carry on, his legs wobbling like George Foreman in a scene straight from the Rumble In The Jungle.
“The fact is that these guys have a mentality to put their bodies on the line,” added Kidney.
“Brian has that fighter spirit and because of his profile you see it a lot but a load of them have it. Like Brian they push themselves really hard to make matches and stay in matches.
“Brian O’Driscoll has always and will always push himself to the limit for Ireland.”
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