x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Brian O'Driscoll ready to try again

Ireland rugby captain remembers the last time England spoiled the party.

Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll.
Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll.

Brian O'Driscoll, the Ireland captain, will be the only man starting at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin tomorrow who remembers what it is like to play England in a Grand Slam encounter.

In 2003, England arrived at the old Lansdowne Road with fire in their bellies after missing out on a whitewash of the other nations in four successive years. Three of those were at the final hurdle, to Wales in 1999, Scotland in 2000 and Ireland in 2001, while France burst their title ambitions in 2002.

O'Driscoll led out his team that day to see that Martin Johnson, the then England captain, had lined up his team not only on the wrong area of the pitch, but also offered Ireland very little room for manoeuvre to save face before the anthems were sung.

O'Driscoll told his team to stand adjacent to England, which resulted in Mary McAleese, the president of Ireland, having to greet both sides from off the red carpet.

It was a masterstroke of sports psychology from Johnson, and one which contributed to England's crushing 42-6 victory that set up their World Cup success in Australia that same year. "In a weird way, I almost have an element of respect for him," said O'Driscoll later.

If the 32-year-old has got enough on his plate trying to lead his team against the northern hemisphere's highest-ranked side he also must try to banish from his consciousness the landmarks of which he stands on the threshold.

Such is the enduring brilliance of the Dubliner that he is just one try away from becoming the all-time greatest try scorer in the championship's history. O'Driscoll lies tied with Ian Smith, the Scot who crossed 24 times in the Five Nations between 1924 and 1933.

O'Driscoll will draw level with John Smit, the South Africa captain, who holds the record for leading an international side 74 times.

"No two Six Nations are the same, but you do find yourself in similar situations each year and you've got to plot a course through it to win the game," said O'Driscoll, who will be making his 55th appearance in the championship.

"It is always a huge game for us any time we play England because of the history between the countries and because of the anticipation of the whole nation."

With all of those records on the line, and so much at stake for both sides, there is bound to be a jangle of nerves in Dublin tomorrow.