AS DECLAN KIDNEY runs his squad through their final paces before swapping Maynooth for Edinburgh, the short sharp shouts of 15 defenders can be heard across the grounds of Carton House.
A handful of the team allocated possession are having their say to, distinguishing the voices is a tough task.
Get a little closer, and the noise naturally drops as new starting point is set.
Both the first choice pack and the eight without bibs vocalise their collective intent.
Even with the 16 heaviest men on the pitch growling at one another, one voice can be heard behind the scrum.
Brian O’Driscoll is left of the set-piece; both Luke Marshall and Paddy Jackson are to his right. The former captain is guiding them (with a mixed choice of language) step-by-step before even the most routine training run.
“(We’re) just trying to get to know one another during the week.” O’Driscoll says of his new midfield partner.
“Reading body language and trying to keep communication up and, along with Paddy, try to forge a relationship as quickly as we can. They’re two young lads with bucket-loads of talent, so I’m really looking forward to playing with them.”
After being named in the team, naturally enough, Marshall resembled a kid on Christmas morning. Born in 1991, he said he had been watching O’Driscoll play since he was nine.
“He probably didn’t realise what a massive insult that actually was to me.” The ex-captain says with a deadpan expression.
“But it’s crazy to think that you get to play with guys that were watching at that young age. But that’s the cycle of rugby…”
With that nugget of philosophy, Brian starts to consider Gordon. Surnames unnecessary with a pair who have played a record 48 international Tests at each other’s side. With D’Arcy nursing a broken foot, the 6-12 defeat to England may well have ruined all chances of making it to 50.
“I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen.” He says of his latest inside man. “(Marshall) is a quiet, fairly unassuming lad from what I’ve come across. He goes about his work very well which is a great combination when you come into this setup. He works hard and listens and that’s all you can ask for.”
The influx of the two one-time rivals of the Ulster Schools Cup has made O’Driscoll eight years older than the next senior back, Rob Kearney. Another massive insult.
Captain since he was 24, the 34-year-old is hardly going to start panicking about responsibility now.
Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
“It doesn’t change anything, really.” He says. “Irrespective of armbands or not, I’ll just try and help the guys along, offer options and information into Paddy and Luke and just try to work our patterns and systems as best we can and just be a voice there.
“Sometimes when you come into the setup, it’s hard to be vocal and start dominating. But you need that from your 10 and the more accustomed they get to being in that situation the more confident they’ll be in ordering people around. So maybe I’ll just try and take some of that pressure off them this weekend.”
Both debutants will find pressure in the unforgiving atmosphere of a terrestrially televised Six Nations slug-fest in Edinburgh. However, the fly-half position has dominated the build-up to this fixture and the post-match beat will pound a similar rhythm.
“The proof will be in the pudding when we get out there. They’re confident guys, I certainly don’t envisage them freezing.”
Seven weeks after his 21st birthday, Jackson this week has been subjected to the shallow nature of the viewer – both amateur and professional alike – as few have chosen to look beyond his shaky display in the Heineken Cup final.
O’Driscoll, for one, thinks the reaction to his vanquished foe of that day has been way out of proportion.
“I think I heard Paddy talking about the learning curve from the Heineken Cup final… in fact, I think the stuff written about him from the Heineken was very harsh. I really didn’t think he had that ‘off’ a game.”
“There was a couple of askew kicks, but that was about the extent of it. He did his fundamentals well, he tackled well, he passes the ball very nicely and takes the ball to the line. I just think it was an easy out for people to have a cut off him.”
“He’s come back and shown a great ability to play what he sees in front of him.” Says the man who has seen more debutants come and go than anyone else in this team.
“And that’s another exciting aspect to his game he’s a heads-up footballer. He’s not afraid of having a cut himself. It’s up to us to be able to react to his instinct. Along with Luke, I don’t envisage any issues.”
As the bibbed first team are given possession in the final portion of their Friday manoeuvres, Jackson is indeed taking the ball closer to the line than he does with Ulster. He runs a handful of patterns off a 22 metre line-out, one ending with a Marshall error, another with his provincial team-mate putting Kearney into a try-scoring path untouched.
“They’re going to be big-game players and… no harm. Lots of players have been dropped in the deep end of Six Nations football and survived.
“I would imagine they’ll do that with no problem.”