final push stirs drico
Tribal rivalries hard to escape as poignant day looms for centre
Try as he might, this past week Brian O'Driscoll has been unable to let tomorrow night escape him. Speculation, conjecture, banter. The tribalism that Leinster v Munster brings ensures that for every supporter all roads lead to The RDS.
And if O'Driscoll needed any further validation about the importance of these interprovincial rivalries he can look no further than home with a Cork mother (Geraldine) and a Dubliner father (Frank).
Not that there'll be any issue with divided loyalties this weekend. The families, friends and neighbours are all in sync with the players as they bid to reach the inaugural Magners League Grand Final.
It will take a colossal effort, the Ireland captain estimates, if they are to take a step towards wrestling the Magners League title back off their near neighbours.
"I always look forward to games against Munster; against your friends and your biggest rivals," he revealed ahead of tomorrow night's Magners League semi-final.
"It's a huge one for the supporters as well because the rivalry is probably greater in the workplace than it is amongst ourselves as Irish team-mates.
"We've had a real tit-for-tat battle over the past four or five years -- probably level in terms of wins to losses -- so let's hope we can try to edge that in Cheiks' (Michael Cheika) closing weeks."
Is it possible to escape the tribalism that engulfs the nation on weeks like this?
"You can see it. You can hear it. It's hugely important for the fans because you have bragging rights at stake particularly in Dublin where a lot of Munster people work and vice versa with a certain amount Leinster people making a living down in the likes of Cork, Limerick and Kerry.
"The ability to brag in work on a Monday morning gets people out of bed! You can practically feel the adrenaline rush all week."
So as difficult as it may seem to escape, it is almost as if the players thrive on it. A packed RDS will provide an important backdrop to Leinster's efforts and O'Driscoll concedes that a home draw in a semi-final, any semi-final, provides an important boost.
As fitting an arena as it is, tomorrow night could mark the closing stages of an era which the Clontarf man was intrinsically involved in as Girvan Dempsey and Malcolm O'Kelly cross the whitewash into a new chapter in their lives.
Be it in Thomond Park or the Rec, Ravenhill or the Telstra Dome, Twickenham, Rodney Parade, Lansdowne Road, Murrayfield or the Stade Municipal, the trio have shared some great and defining days together in the green of their native land as well as in the blue of Leinster.
It will be a poignant day when the duo sign off, O'Driscoll admits, but he credits their impact on the game in Ireland as having a lasting effect.
"It will be a sad day (when they retire) because you get used to the same faces around the place. Over time you develop friendships and we're team-mates -- guys you play the game with over a nine or 10-year period.
"It is a case of trying to send them off in the best possible way and no better way to do that than with a victory against our biggest rivals and trying to delay the inevitable for at least another fortnight.
"The two of them are very different individuals. Girv's a very modest professional. Mr Consistency and someone who never lets you down.
"Mal has been an incredible athlete for a number of years for Leinster and for Ireland. And as for his personality around the place; he's 36 years of age going on 21 so I know the boys will miss his hilarious demeanour."
As the season draws to an exciting, albeit tense finale, O'Driscoll believes that the fires of motivation burned as brightly this week as they did on the first day of the season. The key message, he believes, is focus and in pushing for improvement.
"The motivation for us is to improve on our performance against Edinburgh.
"It was a good win, without a doubt, but we conceded four tries so we have to be stronger defensively because Munster are a team who will ask a lot of questions of you.
"They have talent up front spearheaded by a very tough, experienced and physical pack which is supplemented by a very fast and fluent backline. We know all about the capability of Tomás (O'Leary) and ROG (Ronan O'Gara) and their talent spreads right across their backline. We have worked very hard on our defence this week because we have high standards.
"There was disappointment for both provinces in not progressing into the final of the Heineken Cup earlier this month, but you couldn't ask for a bigger game outside of that. It's great for Irish rugby to have a game like this to look forward to.
"There will be passion and pride at stake and we will try to bring our 'A' game as we do every week.
"The challenge for each of us is to dig it out for one more week and to try and extend the season for a little while longer."