Ireland v Italy, Six Nations, February 6
O'Driscoll makes light of injury concern
February 5, 2010

Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll has declared himself fit for his side's Six Nations opener against Italy despite reports that he was stuggling with a quad injury.

The Leinster centre was in doubt for the Croke Park clash after suffering the setback in training this week but when asked if he would be fit to take his place for the opening leg of Ireland's bid for back-to-back Grand Slams the 31-year-old gave a brief "yeah".

It is welcome news for Ireland coach Declan Kidney who was forced to withdraw Donncha O'Callaghan from his starting line-up yesterday after a knee injury sidelined the Munster lock to add to injuries to flanker Stephen Ferris and fly-half Jonathan Sexton.

Ireland completed their first Grand Slam in 61 years in last season's Championship and O'Driscoll believes that success after so many near misses will liberate Ireland, but also realises that failing to improve will result in ruin.

"There's an element of the monkey now being off our back, but that's come and gone," he said. "You just forget that and look to another campaign, putting the same pressure on yourself to perform. We've spoken about expectations and we know we can't remain stagnant, otherwise other teams will pass us by. That's our sole focus."

O'Driscoll has been reunited with Leinster colleague Gordon D'Arcy in Ireland's midfield for a partnership that has proved highly effective in the past. D'Arcy has been rewarded for his fine form this season, displacing Ulster's Paddy Wallace who was first choice at inside centre during the Grand Slam march.

"I'm pleased that Gordon is back. It took him time a while to get back from that broken arm - he was out for a year," said O'Driscoll. "It's great that he's hitting form and it's good to have Paddy playing well also. There's so much competition in the team - it means you always get the best out of one another and ensure complacency doesn't creep in.

"You just can't afford to think that the jersey is yours for a full campaign. But Gordon has been doing extremely well and is doing what he's good at. One thing that I took on myself last year is to get back to what you're good at and concentrate on your strengths. He's done that and it's working for him."

Leinster's Leo Cullen comes in to make his first Six Nations start in seven years in the absence of O'Callaghan and Kidney is happy to have the captain of the Heineken Cup-holders on board.

"Leo has been in or around the squad for a long time. You are always delighted when a guy gets a go, especially when he has stuck it out as long as he has since his last Six Nations game," said Kidney. "I know Leo from coaching the Irish Under-19s, which goes back a few years now. He is an exceptional leader and his reading of the game, on top of all of the other things he brings to it, will be an asset I think he will bring into the team.

"You always look to see what a guy will bring into a team as against what you are losing the day before a match. Bangs and knocks are part and parcel of it - that's why squads are so important. If you are waiting around for the same 15 to be fit all of the time that will never happen.

"We are lucky now that we have a lot of fellas who can slot in and out. It was disappointing for Donncha (O'Callaghan) but it is great for Donnacha Ryan, who steps up to the bench, with Leo getting the chance. Sometimes you make changes for the sake of it and sometimes they are a little bit pushed on you.

"We are looking forward to him playing and I think the enthusiasm he has brought into playing and the fact that Donncha (O'Callaghan) wasn't able to train in the past week and that Leo has been in the team (training anyway) means it has been pretty seamless really."

Those are sentiments echoed by Cullen's Leinster and Ireland team-mate O'Driscoll.

"He's the sort of guy who doesn't speak for the sake of it but very much when he does speak, people listen to him," said O'Driscoll. "He chooses his thoughts and what he says very carefully and I think that's a great trait in a captain too. We'll certainly enjoy his leadership at the weekend. We know what he brings to a team - he's a bit of a nightmare to play against, so Italy will certainly find him tough to deal with."


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