Brian O’Driscoll enjoyed winning Ireland’s first Grand Slam in 61 years last season so much that he wants to do it all over again.
The Irish captain has outlined his determination to lift the Grand Slam trophy again when Ireland’s rugby team say goodbye to Croke Park in the final game of the RBS Six Nations against Scotland at the end of March.
The clash of the Celts could be another Grand Slam decider a year after Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal heroics in Cardiff.
And a first ever defense of the slam would see Ireland complete the clean sweep on Dublin soil for the first time, as well having won it in Belfast and Wales previously.
“The aim for the year is to defend our title and improve our play,” declared Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll.
“We want to improve as a team and let our performances take care of the results. We have to raise our standards a level from last year. We know we gave the whole country a lift last season and it would be great to do that again.”
O’Driscoll handed back the Grand Slam trophy in London last week, then warned his RBS Six Nations opponents that he’s only put it in storage.
“It’s not about retaining it, it is about giving it back and trying to win it again,” declared O’Driscoll as he awaits his 100th Ireland cap in this campaign.
“You wouldn’t be really happy just with winning it last season. You are hoping you can do it again.
“You get selfish after attaining a goal. You get a taste for it. It doesn’t wane. If anything success heightens your ambition.”
Now entering his 11th championship season with Ireland, the 31-year-old O’Driscoll maintains his hunger is as acute as ever.
He is, however, entering unknown territory in his bid to keep hold of the winner’s medal that had eluded him until last season.
“You would have to ask someone who has managed to retain it what it feels like because it is new ground for me,” O’Driscoll told Star Sunday.
“I will just go with the flow. I won’t look at the test games any differently but I will enjoy them like the rest of this Irish squad.
“The great thing about the younger guys, and the older brigade have spoken about this, is that they don’t know the 10 years of disappointment so we shouldn’t burden them by talking about it.
“Let them go with the flow as well. They’ve got the winning mentality and they’re going in the right direction so what’s the point in saying how hard a battle it was before we eventually won it.”
O’Driscoll has no plans to throw the towel in just yet as Team Ireland casts one eye towards the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
“I am loving it at the moment, loving my rugby,” admitted O’Driscoll after his born-again season in 2009.
Hayes for 100
John Hayes is in line to become the first Irish rugby star to smash through the 100 cap mark at Twickenham at the end of the month.
And nobody will be happier for the Munster prop than his Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll, himself just four caps off the ton, and coach Declan Kidney.
“Knowing John he probably won’t read anything about himself and even if he did he would be embarrassed by it,” explained Grand Slam skipper O’Driscoll.
“It would embarrass him to know that we are even talking about him but John Hayes is a great character, the type of guy you would want on your team week in and week out.”
Hayes won’t be taking anything for granted with regards to the 100th cap.
Ever since he first appeared for Ireland against Scotland in February 2000m he has been as low key as a hair straightener in the Jedwards bathroom.
“To get a hundred caps in that one position would be phenomenal and a great, great thing,” added O’Driscoll.
“But John would be the first to say let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
“That said obviously we would be hopeful that he has at least three more games in him! I will be delighted for him when he does get there.”
The fact that Hayes has won all 97 of his caps to date at tight-head prop has staggered coach Kidney in a game where the demands on the top players are getting more gruelling by the season.
“John Hayes is in probably the toughest position going so to get to 97 caps in one position is a huge testimony to the way the guy looks after himself,” added Kidney.
REVENGE on behalf of the Irish nation and Giovanni Trapattoni will be on the bill when Declan Kidney’s Six Nations champions go to Paris on Saturday, February 13.
Captain Brian O’Driscoll has admitted his team will be looking to make amends for the heartache suffered at the hands of Thierry Henry the last time an Ireland side played in the Stade de France.
And even French rugby coach Marc Lievremont admits his countryman’s behavior was appalling on that World Cup night.
The Six Nations game marks the first sporting battle between Ireland and France since the notorious Henry crime against the nation in the Paris playoff.
“I am sure people in Ireland and the soccer fraternity in particular will hope that we get the better of them over in the Stade de France this time around,” admitted O’Driscoll.
“I know that in rugby Henry’s handball would have been a knock on.
“I read Bob Casey say recently that if sport was just Henry would have dislocated his elbow as he knocked the ball on and he probably spoke for the Irish public in that.
“From our point of view we will just try to go and win as we always do anytime we go to Paris.”
O’Driscoll scored a sensational hat-trick of tries when Ireland last won at the Stade de France 10 years ago, but the Henry handball has added spice to the fixture.
French coach Lievremont admitted Irish fans will have an extra special interest in the game, but claimed the rugby nation infamous for eye gouging and stamping would never resort to Henry style tactics.
“Of course the Irish have a right to be angry and very disappointed at what happened,” Lievremont told Star Sunday.
“The whole French team was there that night. We were extremely bored and we just wanted it to finish.
“But it’s not the same sport, not the same values or the same men. And I think Ireland already got their revenge in by beating us at Croke Park last year.”
NICK Mallett is fearful of the Declan Kidney factor as Italy prepare for their RBS Six Nations opener in Dublin on Saturday.
Mallett’s Italy pushed the Irish pack all around Croke Park two years ago before finally succumbing to a 16-11 defeat to Eddie O’Sullivan’s side.
The Italians will still base their tactics around the power of their front five next week, but Mallett expects to face a very different Ireland under Kidney’s leadership.
“It was a very different Ireland side then and probably not as happy as the one now,” claimed Mallett.
“That Ireland team was not as organized and well structured. This Irish side is very well organised and they understand exactly where their strengths are.
“They are pragmatic. They have a very good pack of forwards and world class backs so they can play any game.
“You could see that with the try they scored in the last minute against Australia in the autumn which proved that they can strike at any point against the best teams in the world.
“They have a good kicking game, a great defense and they make very few mistakes. It won’t be quite as fast and loose as the game was two years ago.”
Looking at the Teams
REIGNING champions Ireland are red hot favorites for another RBS Six Nations title, even if the Grand Slam may prove slightly more difficult with trips to Paris and London on the schedule. The Irish provinces are in red hot form and Ireland will be the team to beat . . .
FRANCE is the side most likely to upset plans for another Irish title, especially with home advantage against Brian O’Driscoll et al on Valentines weekend. Coach Marc Lievremont’s rebuilding is taking effect and their clubs are doing well in Europe . . .
WALES is the dark horse for the tournament, simply because the majority of their squad know what it takes to win a Grand Slam. Scrum-half Dwayne Peel is out with a groin injury, but coach Warren Gatland knows how to beat Ireland. Potential match winner Lee Byrne is banned for the game with England on Saturday, while Gavin Henson is still missing . . .
THE ever-arrogant Martin Johnson keeps talking up England’s hopes as only he can, but the coach’s confidence looks ill-founded after a disastrous autumn campaign when they managed just one try in three tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. England are rebuilding and are there for the taking at Twickers at the end of February . . .
NEW Scottish coach Andy Robinson, the former England boss, has Dan Parks back in his squad, but Scotland will again be a side in transition in what promises to be a difficult season. Keep an eye out for the Leinster lock Nathan Hines, currently playing out of his skin with the Irish Blues . . .
THE Italians can’t wait to get their top club side into the Magners League, and the sooner the better. Their best players need all the quality rugby they can get if they are going to be anything other than also-rans in the Six Nations, a point not lost on coach Nick Mallett who looks certain to pick up the wooden spoon again this season.