IRELAND COACH JOE Schmidt paid tribute to Brian O’Driscoll as he made his last home appearance in an Ireland jersey today.
O’Driscoll was at his influential best as the Irish team crushed Italy 46-7 in the Six Nations, and Schmidt suggested that the 35-year-old was a role model to all young rugby players.
“He’s class,” the Irish boss said. “In the modern day of the powerful, direct-running centre, he still showed that character and class can take you a long way.
“He had a hand in three tries and it was a pretty important hand in all of them.
“No one left the stadium [at the end]. There was fantastic applause for a man who massively deserves it.”
In relation to today’s game, Schmidt admitted that Ireland could have been a bit more clinical in the opening stages against a “combative” Italian side.
“I felt we got in really good scoring positions but didn’t make the most of them,” he explained.
However, he said the team were always confident of an eventual breakthrough.
“We felt we would break them down if we could keep that relentless pressure on. It’s a credit to the players who started, and they started to turn the screw, while the players who came on really added value.”
Eager not to hype up expectations, Schmidt acknowledged that beating France in Paris would be a big challenge, given Ireland’s record poor record there, commenting:
“It’s certainly going to be a massive task, but fairytales do come true sometimes.”
Meanwhile, unlike most of the Irish nation, the New Zealander is not exactly looking forward to the occasion.
“I just get nervous,” he said. “But it’s exciting for the people watching and we want them to be excited and to deliver on that expectation.”