Bateman to clamp down on free-scoring O'Driscoll

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The Independent Online

The centre Brian O'Driscoll is a hot property right now. The 21-year-old has raised the profile of rugby in Ireland to unprecedented levels, helped in no small way by his sensational hat-trick of tries which floored France 10 days ago. Not surprisingly, with the exception of the right wing Shane Horgan, who returns after injury, Ireland field the other 14 who performed so heroically in Paris.

And now there is a serious incentive to round off their Six Nations in style. O'Driscoll's feat, and the team's victory, has prompted a mobile phone retailer to put up £1m for the Irish player who can surpass O'Driscoll's treble against Wales on Saturday.

It is not certain that the cash will be safe. As impossible as it may seem, it was not all that long ago that an Irishman (not O'Driscoll, remarkably) managed to run in four tries in a Test. That was the captain, Keith Wood, against the United States in a World Cup pool match last October.

"I hope and assume that we will be looking at that £1m in a communistic fashion," said Wood, on learning of a reward that has come six months too late for him. "In this sport more than in any other try-scoring is a team effort."

Wood went on to acknowledge the remarkable impact that O'Driscoll is having on the game. "It is encouraging that rugby in Ireland has this sort of profile, that people like this company think that someone in the team can do it."

But for all the hype everyone on the Irish ship is keen to shield O'Driscoll from too much media attention. "I know Brian would prefer to do his talking on the pitch," said Wood. "Right now everyone wants a part of him, but he must not spread himself too thinly."

The Irish management are not the only ones looking out for O'Driscoll. Wales, and in particular Allan Bateman, are also on the watch for Ireland'slatest phenomenon.

It will be Bateman - nicknamed "The Clamp" in his Rugby League days with Warrington and the Australian side Cronulla Sharks for his tackling prowess - who will have the task of marking this mercurial runner. In fact, the Northampton centre has been compiling a dossier on O'Driscoll.

"I have not seen much of him," he admitted, "but a friend of mine, Mel Deane, a former colleague at Richmond, is playing in Ireland and he has phoned me up and talked to me about O'Driscoll and told me the way he likes to play."

But Bateman feels equally that it is not just Wales who will be tested in defence at Lansdowne Road. "We have a lot of pace in the side now and we will also be testing O'Driscoll's defensive qualities."

Much of that pace will come from the left wing, Shane Williams, and the debutant full-back, Rhys Williams. The Cardiff full-back comes in for Llanelli's Matt Cardey, who was ruled out after suffering concussion in a club match last weekend.

At 20, Rhys Williams is a year younger than O'Driscoll, and was the star of Wales Under-19 World Cup side last year. He has blistering pace and looks solid in defence. He is the only change from the side which beat Scotland 12 days ago. "This is a huge boost to my confidence," he said. "With the likes of Bateman, Rupert Moon and the others, I am surrounded by experienced players and that should be an enormous help."

The only other change on the cards is at inside centre, where Mark Taylor has still not recovered fully from a leg injury he picked up at the weekend. The coach, Graham Henry, has therefore decided to name an alternative, with Scott Gibbs on stand-by to take over as No12.

"It will be a huge test in every respect," said Henry. "If we are to win then everyone will need to perform at absolute optimum." Of his selection for this match, the under-fire New Zealander said: "It is the backbone of the team which displayed such character against the Scots, and in Rhys Williams we have a young man who almost exactly replicates the skills of Matt Cardey."

Whether those skills and those of The Clamp can cramp O'Driscoll's style on Saturday is quite another matter.

SIX NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS

IRELAND (v Wales, Lansdowne Road, 4.0pm Saturday): G Dempsey (Terenure College); S Horgan (Lansdowne), B O'Driscoll (Blackrock College), R Henderson (Wasps), D Hickie (St Mary's College); R O'Gara (Cork Constitution), P Stringer (Shannon); P Clohessy (Young Munster), K Wood (Garryowen, capt), J Hayes (Shannon), M Galwey (Shannon), M O'Kelly (St Mary's College), S Easterby (Llanelli), K Dawson (London Irish), A Foley (Shannon). Replacements: F Sheahan (Cork Constitution), J Fitzpatrick (Dungannon), J Davidson (Castres), A Ward (Ballynahinch), G Easterby (Ebbw Vale), D Humphreys (Dungannon), K Maggs (Bath).

WALES: R Williams (Cardiff); G Thomas (Cardiff), A Bateman (Northampton), M Taylor (Swansea) or S Gibbs (Swansea)*, S Williams (Neath); S Jones (Llanelli), R Moon (Llanelli); P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff, capt), I Gough (Pontypridd), A Moore (Swansea), N Budgett (Ebbw Vale), C Charvis (Swansea), G Lewis (Pontypridd). Replacements: R McBryde (Llanelli), S John (Cardiff), E Lewis (Cardiff), M Williams (Cardiff), R Smith (Ebbw Vale), N Jenkins (Cardiff), D James (Llanelli).

* Taylor plays if fit

FRANCE (v Italy, Stade de France, 2.0pm Saturday): T Castaignÿde (Castres), P Bernat-Salles (Biarritz), R Dourthe (Dax), E Ntamack (Toulouse), D Bory (Montferrand), A Penaud (Toulouse), A Hueber (Toulon), C Califano (Toulouse), M Dal Maso (Colomiers), F Tournaire (Toulouse), F Pelous (Toulouse, capt), O Brouzét (Bÿgles-Bordeaux), O Magne (Montferrand), T Liÿvremont (Perpignan), L Mallier (Brive). Replacements: R Ibañez (Perpignan), P De Villiers (Stade Français), H Miorin (Toulouse), A Benazzi (Agen), C Laussucq (Stade Français), C Heymans (Agen).

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