Fearless Drico 'sets standard'
O'Connell hails inspirational leader ahead of 100th cap
The man who almost knocked Brian O'Driscoll out of contention for his 100th cap for Ireland this weekend was quick to laud his international captain as the man who "sets the standards" for Irish rugby.
British and Irish Lions captain Paul O'Connell knows better than most the character and bravery of the man he will walk out behind at Croke Park on Saturday.
"It is incredible. Brian often talks about leading by example and I think that is what he does more than anyone," said O'Connell.
"Your best player, very often, isn't your best defender or your best attacker. In the last few years, Brian's greatest strength has been his ability to defend and poach ball on the ground.
"He takes unbelievable punishment for a guy who is considered a flamboyant player. That is inspiring and a great way to lead a team."
Indeed, it was less than two years ago that a campaign was waged for O'Connell to replace O'Driscoll as Ireland's captain, so that the older warrior could concentrate fully on his form and fitness. In his wisdom, coach Declan Kidney stayed loyal to O'Driscoll, who led Ireland to their first Grand Slam in 61 years.
"He has set a standard for play across the board. Everyone aspires to be the complete player both in defence and attack. That is what Brian is for us," reflected O'Connell.
From O'Driscoll's Ireland debut against Australia in 1999, his magical hat-trick in Paris in 2000 and on through the various ups and downs of a tumultuous career, he has lifted the sagging confidence of a nation.
"Irish rugby struggled in the 90s. We play with a lot more confidence now. A lot of that confidence has come on the back of Brian's play and his personal attitude," said O'Connell.
There was a school of thought floating around that O'Driscoll was all too quick to mention his quick recovery from a clear concussion against England in his Six Nations blog.
There was a fear that he would struggle to regain his full equilibrium from what was a ferocious knee to the head from one of his vice-captains.
But manager Paul McNaughton was reassuringly optimistic as he charted the serious medical progress for dealing with concussion in pro rugby.
"Back then, you had your three weeks lay off from rugby when the doctor considered you had concussion. Nowadays, you have your various psycho-metric cognitive tests," he said. "Even at that, it is best practice, if there is suspicion of concussion, to go to a neurologist before a player goes back within the three weeks.
"In Brian's case, for instance, he had no problems with the cognitive tests early last week and we brought him to a neurologist, as well. He is fine."
It would take a runaway train to make O'Driscoll think twice about joining John Hayes as his country's second centurion. Even then, the train would want to brace itself.