Brian O’Driscoll’s emotional final international appearance in Dublin will not hinder Ireland’s Six Nations title quest, according to Jamie Heaslip.
The Ireland squad formed an impromptu guard of honour for O’Driscoll as he trotted out for yesterday’s captain’s run training session at the Aviva Stadium prior to today’s farewell in the team’s penultimate Six Nations match with Italy.
O’Driscoll will also break Australian George Gregan’s 139-cap Test appearance record today, but as Joe Schmidt’s side can still claim the title, despite their 13-10 defeat to England, No 8 Heaslip knows the team will focus on that more than paying homage to the iconic centre, who retires this summer.
“I think he was just milking it there to be honest,” joked Heaslip of O’Driscoll’s captain’s run reception. “We were just cold waiting for him to get out and take the picture! It wasn’t planned, but I’m sure it will be an emotional day for him and his family.
“He’s given so much for Ireland and for his team-mates, and I’ve been lucky enough to be his team-mate for the last eight years. So I feel extremely privileged. But it’s weird, there’s no talk of it amongst the players. He’s approaching it like any other game, and to be honest that’s what you really expect from a man of his calibre.
“It might be a bit emotional for him, but he’s been in a lot of games like this, where it’s potentially his last game at home. For us it’s not an issue, and for him I can’t imagine it would be either.
“He’s approached the game the same as always. He looks as sharp as ever, he’s as focused as ever, he knows exactly what he’s doing. There’s still a lot to be playing for, and that’s what we’ve got to focus on now.”
Italy have chosen not to risk highly rated back-row duo Sergio Parisse and Alessandro Zanni, hoping both will be fresh for their final-round clash with England in Rome.