Six Nations 2014: England v Ireland - Paul O'Connell praises Brian O'Driscoll for revolutionising Irish rugby ahead of record-equalling appearance

O'Driscoll will run out at Twickenham to earn his 139th Test cap to equal George Gregan's record in what will be his final appearance at HQ

Brian O'Driscoll has almost single-handedly revolutionised Irish rugby, according to team-mate Paul O'Connell.

Captain O'Connell believes legendary centre O'Driscoll will retire at the end of the season having dragged Ireland, at times kicking and screaming, into the era of the ultra-professional.

O'Driscoll will equal George Gregan's world-record 139 Test caps, including British and Irish Lions appearances, when Ireland face England on Saturday in the RBS 6 Nations.

O'Driscoll made his international debut in 1999 and has been an Ireland fixture ever since.

Munster talisman O'Connell believes the 35-year-old's dogmatic approach to defensive excellence, notwithstanding his game-breaking acumen, have opened Ireland's eyes to a level of rugby never seen before.

"He's spread confidence across the whole set-up; he's been playing for Ireland ever since I've been involved," said O'Connell, who made his Ireland debut in 2002.

"I grew up watching Ireland in the 90s and maybe that confidence wasn't there when an Irish team took the field.

"I think any team that takes the field with Brian in it always feels they have a chance of winning.

"You see that confidence now spread across the provinces, you see guys like Johnny Sexton that have, I suppose, watched and learned under Brian.

"You see what guys have become under him as well, and they've realised this is how you need to play the game, you need to be the complete player.

"You need to defend as well as you attack, you need to be able to lead a team off the pitch as well as on the pitch.

"There's a lot of people who have come through now almost in the mould of Brian, in the way he's carried himself.

"That leads to an Irish team that, while we probably hadn't had the success we'd have wanted, there's a lot of leaders in there.

"And there's a lot of capability going forward."

O'Driscoll's exemplary conduct and demonic defence stand up as the benchmark for those frontline stars who will be challenged with taking Ireland into the next era, said O'Connell.

"When Brian finishes that confidence will remain in the Irish set-up, because I think a few players have moulded themselves on him a little bit and realised this is what you need to be to be the all-round rugby player," said O'Connell.

"What he does on the pitch is just incredible, very often your best attacker isn't necessarily your best defender, but Brian is that, he's a fantastic attacking player but he's an incredible defender, an incredible poacher.

"He's brilliant at the ruck, has a great work ethic, and he's a very unselfish player as well.

"He's actually a very understated and quiet guy behind it all as well.

"We've another three games left with him though, so we won't write him off as retired just yet!"

PA

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