Six Nations: Resurgent Scots determined not to let Brian O'Driscoll roam in desert
Coach Johnson wary of Irish captain's influence as they aim for back-to-back wins
Saturday 23 February 2013
They unveiled a statue of the late Bill McLaren in Hawick on Tuesday. It is three years now since the beloved Voice of Rugby passed away but memories of his vivid observations linger on – such as the time Brian O'Driscoll waltzed home a hat-trick of tries against Scotland. "The Scottish midfield opened up like the Gobi Desert," the Borderer lamented.
That was at Lansdowne Road in 2002. Eleven years on, O'Driscoll remains a fixture in the Irish midfield. And, for all of the notable absentees from the visiting XV at Murrayfield tomorrow (Jonathan Sexton, Simon Zebo, Cian Healy, Gordon D'Arcy), the resurgent Scots are wary of the enduring class of the veteran centre of excellence who will be wearing the green No 13 shirt.
At 34, O'Driscoll will be winning his 123rd cap and looking for a 47th try for his country. "Much is said and written about Brian O'Driscoll as an attacking weapon and about the wonderful rugby player that he's been over the years," Scott Johnson, Scotland's interim head coach, replied, when asked whether he expected to face a team of "15 flankers." "What's largely not written and said is the fact that he's so good at the contact area. He's fantastic there.
"He's world-class and has been for a long, long time. Five players on the pitch – the back row combined with the centres – provide 50 per cent of your output and they're only 30 per cent of your team. If the back row and the centres are doing their work then you're in the game; you're in the quality.
"It's true what they say about Ireland because they're all good at it. So therefore we've got to be extremely good at it."
The Scots, who hit their attacking straps with a 34-10, four-try demolition of Italy on home soil a fortnight ago, will need to be equally good at stopping any chinks, let alone desert-sized gaps, opening up for O'Driscoll. He might have had little room in which to manoeuvre in the claustrophobic kick-fest of the 12-6 defeat against England in the Dublin rain two weeks ago, but the week before that he shot through the eye of a needle to feed the opening score to Zebo in Ireland's 33-20 win in Cardiff. He also plundered a try himself that day – after getting down and dirty at the breakdown and plucking up the ball close to the Welsh line.
Much has been said and written about the new Caledonian attacking zeal fostered by the dynamic Scottish back three of Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Tim Visser but Johnson and his assistant, Dean Ryan, know that the contest will be won and lost tomorrow at the breakdown battle area. The interim head coach has been focusing on getting that right, rather than on pointing to possible deficiencies in an Irish team who will have the rookie Ulster duo Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall operating in the key 10-12 axis.
"We could sit here and try to work out how we're going to exploit things, or just try and get ourselves right," Johnson said. "We're at the stage at the moment where we need to get ourselves right. The reality is that our ills and our success will lie with our ability. This week is about us."
Ireland's head coach, Declan Kidney, is of a similar mind. He wants to concentrate on the 15 players at his disposal tomorrow rather than fret about the five players he has lost from his last starting XV. "We have made a conscious decision to just get on with things," Kidney said. "The injury count speaks for itself. We will work with what we have."
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