Bod: It's now or never
Last-chance saloon for captain raises resolve to skin Australia
BRIAN O'DRISCOLL admits the knowledge that this will be his last World Cup has strengthened his resolve to help Ireland overcome Australia.
The crucial encounter of Pool C will be staged at Eden Park on Saturday when the Irish hope to give their ambitions of reaching the knockout stages an enormous lift by beating the Wallabies.
The stakes have generated a sense of urgency in 32-year-old O'Driscoll, who knows major occasions will become increasingly rare for a player entering his twilight years.
"Games like these are huge and for me personally, knowing this will be my last World Cup, it's even bigger," he said.
"But as much as we know the enormity of the game, there's no point putting pressure on ourselves. We must still enjoy it.
"The occasion to shine is against the best teams in the world and Australia are ranked two in the world.
"Why not take the opportunity now, It might not present itself again. I'm excited about the prospect of taking Australia on. All of the hard work that I have put in over the last 10-12 weeks culminates in this. It's now or never, and hopefully it's now."
O'Driscoll knows Australia well having played against them 13 times, three of them for the Lions. Since making his Test debut against the Wallabies in 1999, he has been on the winning side against them on just three occasions.
However, the Ireland skipper refuses to place them on a pedestal.
"This is a very good Australia side," he added. "Any team that wins the Tri Nations is a force to be reckoned with. That speaks for itself.
"As a team you back yourself on the achievements you have and the medals in your pocket. Fresh in Australia's minds will be their victory in the Tri Nations and they have drawn confidence from that. But we must have belief in our own quality and on our day we feel we are capable of beating anyone.
"We have to make sure that our performance is up there with some of our best in recent years.
"We can't allow Australia to play and must impose ourselves on them."
O'Driscoll admires the Wallabies backs, but believes Ireland have the quality to compete with them on equal terms. "Australia's backs are often innovators when it comes to back line play and are forward thinking in that regard," he said. "You see a lot of teams try to copy and mirror what they do, but at the same time we feel as though we will shut them down if we defend well.
"It's about whether a team gets front-foot ball. Any backline in the world will look good with quick service.
"The game these days is about the speed of your ruck ball and not allowing defences to reset."
O'Driscoll's centre partner Gordon D'Arcy refuses to be in thrall to Australia, claiming belief is the key to Ireland defying expectations. "I think we're capable of beating Australia. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think so," said the Leinster centre.
"We can do as much video and prepare as best as we can, but if you don't believe, you're already on the back foot.
"Belief is a massive, massive thing in sport. You must have belief in yourself and the belief in the guys around you.
"I believe that across the board we can match and beat them. Australia are the form team coming into the World Cup. We wouldn't underestimate them at all.
"Quade Cooper is one of the outstanding backs in the world this year. Pat McCabe has given them that directness they've been looking for.
"Adam Ashley-Cooper has been phenomenal. They are a very good team and it would be foolish to think otherwise.
"But in the same breath there's no point me saying I don't think we can beat them. We can't put them on a pedestal."
Ireland's failure to launch their campaign with a bonus-point victory over the USA was disappointing, but D'Arcy accepts the backs must shoulder much of the blame.
"We weren't happy with the way we played. We obviously let the forwards down because they had a pretty good game," he said. "It was a good wake up call for us. We should have kicked on more, but we lacked that bit of accuracy and clinical touch."
Commenting on the injury that ended hooker Jerry Flannery's World Cup, Ireland team manager Paul McNaughton said: "Obviously it is particularly disappointing for Jerry to have suffered this injury at this point in the tournament.
"With the fact that he is out for four to six weeks, we needed to make the decision to fly Damien Varley down as soon as possible.
"Sean Cronin will step into the replacements seamlessly this weekend which shows the importance of having experience and depth in the squad."