Ireland and Munster legend Jerry Flannery hails the influence of Brian O’Driscoll in this column for Paddy Power as he previews Ireland v England in the Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday, February 10.
International rugby is like life: you’re always going to come across a few lads who are dicks.
You’re going to get some Italian dicks, a few Scottish, Welsh and French dicks. Argentina have more than their share. I don’t doubt for a minute that players from these countries consider some Irish lads to be dicks too. But that’s the nature of the game when everyone is competitive and wants to win.
I say this on the back of the comments from Jim Telfer about England a couple of weeks ago.
England are “too arrogant, too pretentious and too condescending”, said the former Scotland and British & Irish Lions coach.
Telfer tried to portray the English team as a bunch of arrogant dicks. There’s no denying England are the team everyone likes to beat. But this stereotype isn’t fair and I’ve never found the English players to be particularly arrogant.
OK, I’ll admit James Haskell isn’t short on confidence, to say the least, but I know a few guys who have played with him over at Wasps and they say he’s a good banter. He’s an excellent example of the drive some of the English players have to self-promote. Like that ‘Dieux du Stade’ naked calendar. I half-think James moved to Paris just to get in the calendar.
The truth about the ‘next big thing’
Anyway, Telfer came out with these stereotypes from years back to label the Welsh and English players. The idea of the English players being this incredibly arrogant bunch and the Welsh lads being lazy is bullshit. It’s a professional game and these preconceptions are wrong.
The perceived arrogance with the English team is largely down to how they’re built up in the media. The players are heavily promoted with Sky Sports and ESPN who are invested in telling us: ‘We’re seeing world-class talent.’ A young player can have a handful of good games and suddenly they’re talking about him being the ‘next big thing’ because that’s what sells tickets. It gets magnified when Dewi Morris and Stuart Barnes hype the upcoming matches by talking-up new players unrealistically. Then those lads get thrown in and they’re expected to be world beaters. And when these young lads don’t perform to the unreasonable hype, people rip them apart.
People also tend to look at English players who try to drive their profile in the media through self-promotion as arrogant. You can’t blame the players as there’s much more money in the UK for lads to earn off the field so they’re more enthusiastic about self-promotion. There’s a chance they’ll land a fat stack endorsement contract.
The Irish market is much smaller so there’s less incentive for the Irish lads to pump their profile off the pitch, as they’re not going to make as much coin from it. Traditionally, the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell and now Rob Kearney and Johnny Sexton – they’re the lads who’ll tend to attract the bigger off-field contracts.
O’Driscoll is the complete player
BOD has deservedly made money from off-the-field endorsement deals but I don’t think anybody who has watched his commitment and how much he has put his body on the line for his country would begrudge him a cent. He has done well from his success on the pitch, but he’s a smart guy and he’s never let it define him.
Every time he steps out onto the field – even when it’s in training – BOD is just such a competitor. He constantly delivers for his country. When we saw him against Wales, you got a really good view of both sides of his game. Yes, there were the moments of flair, but he put an incredible amount of work into the breakdown, turning balls over. He’s the complete player. Having ability and talent is one thing, but when you can back it up with the mental strength and drive that O’Driscoll has, it makes a very special player. He may not be captain any more, but he was the best player against Wales.
It’s because of O’Driscoll (and a few others) that we’re going to beat England at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday. It’s fair to say that motivation is never going to be an issue for any Irishman playing against England this weekend but also to beat England, particularly after their win over the All Blacks in the autumn, is real benchmark of our standing in the rugby world.
People ask me about my memories of playing against England. Invariably the game at Croke Park in 2007 gets brought up. It was a great day for Irish rugby and I was very proud to have been involved that day.
Everyone focuses on the scenes during the national anthems that day. It was great to see the respect that was given to the English anthem as it would have been a huge motivating factor for them if there had been boos and it may well have turned out a very different result.
I felt sorry for John Hayes
Myself and John Hayes got a bit of stick during Amhrain na Bhfiann as we got a bit emotional. I felt sorry for Hayes as he was already very fat and very very bald so the fact people now realised he was also a bit of a pussy was tough on the guy.
For me it was a very strange experience as, due to being such an incredibly hard bastard all my life, it was my first time ever crying. It felt very strange at the time to feel the virgin tears fall from my deep-blue eyes and, to be honest, I was going to ask the physio what was wrong with me. Some of the other players then tried to explain to me that it was “normal” and that they had cried a lot when they were young boys, particularly when they were in “pain”.
This just further confused me as I was unaware of what this “pain” sensation felt like. Over the years, I had also heard many of my direct opponents speak of this “pain” thing, but it was always along the lines of “please no, the pain, I can’t take it any more, mercy, mercy” or “The pain! Just kill me you heartless bastard, Flannery!”. As you can imagine it was certainly quite a confusing day for me. But I do love my country. YOLO.
Come Sunday Ireland will have too much for England. Ireland have experience running through the spine of our team with the likes of Best, Heaslip, Sexton, and Kearney. England don’t have as many ‘stalwarts’ there as they have had. Every team is going to have lads who can carry balls – and we have that as well – but we have that little bit of X Factor thanks to O’Driscoll and Simon Zebo. Zebs is just an incredible player and it’s scary (obviously not for me because I fear nothing) when you think how good he could become. Every time he’s been asked to step up, he responds.
England do a lot right. They’re strong, can dominate the set pieces and they’re hard runners. Manu Tuilagi is the big danger to Ireland, if he comes off the bench. He’s got the explosive power, but he’s also got the skills so you’ve got to watch him. Chris Robshaw had a great game too against Scotland and he’s really growing as a leader. Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell did very well too. Chris Ashton is one of those players everyone wants to hate, but you’ve got to respect that he’s a poacher and a very dangerous player.
Ireland can win the Grand Slam
The worry about this Sunday is England’s forward power. The scrum battle is going to be huge and England have a lot of confidence in their own scrum. When Mike Ross went off against Wales it was a big blow to us because he anchors our scrum. He got hurt and needed to go off. If that happens us at the weekend – and that’s what happened to us last year at Twickenham – we’re in trouble. That said, it was good to get Declan Fitzpatrick on the field against Wales as he’ll have benefitted from the experience if called upon on Sunday if Ross breaks down.
We’ve a great chance this Sunday and, if we win, a great chance of a Grand Slam. This is the possibly the best chance of a Slam we’ve had for a long time. I can’t help but feel confident. This Irish team seems to have a great balance between youth and experience and this is gonna be crucial in managing the expectation. We have an unbelievable chance this year.