ONLINE POLL: Ireland driven to give O’Driscoll perfect send-off at Twickenham

Titans' Robin Copeland, who now plays for Cardiff Blues.
Titans' Robin Copeland, who now plays for Cardiff Blues.
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England will face an Ireland team today driven by the desire to write a glorious final chapter in the career of their talisman Brian O’Driscoll.

That is the verdict of Robin Copeland, a former Rotherham Titans flanker now on the verge of breaking into the Ireland first team.

The 26-year-old was called up to Joe Schmidt’s provisional Six Nations squad last month and spent two weeks training with the first team before debuting for the second-string Irish Wolfhounds at the end of January.

In his time training with the squad the powerful back row, who used his year at Clifton Lane as a springboard to the big time, saw first hand the impact O’Driscoll has on the Irish team.

They arrive at Twickenham today looking to strengthen their bid for a grand slam, which would be a second for O’Driscoll and a fitting end to one of the northern hemisphere’s most revered careers.

“With it being his last year he’ll be more than willing to get the result,” says Copeland, “but it is his team-mates as well, who will all be conscious of the legacy he is trying to leave.

“I haven’t been with the squad that much this week but in the time I spent with them, it’s definitely on the rest of the players’ minds.

“They’ll all be thinking they want to do that little bit more just for Brian.

“And potentially that makes them tougher opponents for England today.

“This is already a massive game for Ireland at Twickenham, but the Brian factor gives it that extra edge.

“Results haven’t gone our way of late against England and Brian certainly will want to go out on a high against them.

“There’s a lot of talk about it being a fairy-tale end for him. I try not to buy into things like that, I prefer to take it one game at a time, especially when that next game is against England at Twickenham.

“But if we beat them today, that’s when the clamour will start to grow for a grand slam finale to his career.”

An aura of respect and invincibility surrounds O’Driscoll, who even when he is not playing is still the centre of attention, as was the case when he was dropped for the final Lions Test in Australia last summer.

Such fame can often go to a player’s head, but Copeland has found nothing of the sort from Ireland’s inspirational No 13.

“Credit to him for being at the top of his game for so long, he’s an absolute legend,” continues Copeland.

“And he’s a really good guy as well, more than willing to talk to a younger guy like myself who’s just arrived in the squad. There’s no chip on his shoulder at all.

“He still trains with enormous intensity. His fitness levels and work-rate are second to none.

“Brian is a workhorse, a warrior. He never gets down about anything, he just keeps on going.”

Some of the attributes Copeland has noticed in O’Driscoll at close quarters, mirrors what he has found on his introduction to the Ireland squad.

At 26 he may be viewed as having taken the long road to international recognition, but it was only four years ago that he moved to Plymouth Albion in the Championship having struggled to make his mark upon leaving the Leinster academy.

A year later he had been signed by Andre Bester at Rotherham, and within 12 months had moved up again to Cardiff Blues in the Pro12 League.

This summer he joins Munster, who he hopes will help him realise his international ambitions.

“I wasn’t expecting the Irish call to come so soon to be honest,” he says of the call to join Schmidt’s 44-man Six Nations squad.

“I thought I’d get back home with Munster and make the necessary improvements and that would result in the call.

“That was the plan I was trying to put in place; to get some games under my belt and improve my levels of consistency.

“Because I still don’t think I’m quite ready just yet.

“I know what I need to improve and I feel as though I have what it takes to make it at international level.

“Right now I’m focussing heavily on what I need to do.

“So it was great to get the early call-up and see what the international scene is all about. It’s given me the hunger to make it a regular thing.”

His elevation to such heights of Munster will hearten all at Clifton Lane.

A firm favourite at the club, Copeland was a powerful ball-carrier who scored some memorable tries, but he also bought into the community ethos of the club.

“They’ve always had a great club up there and a top bunch of players,” says Copeland, who describes himself as a maturer player for his 18 months with Cardiff.

“For a player like myself the great thing about the club is that they let players show what they are capable of.

“They try and encourage players with certain strengths to use those strengths, and that’s what happened with me.

“Andre Bester gave me every opportunity to show what I could do and play the game to my own strengths.

“It’s fair to say I wouldn’t be where I am now without that year in Rotherham. But that’s why I went there. It was a stepping stone for me and I knew it was me on trial, week in, week out.

“Some players are happy playing at that level, and while Rotherham is a great club, I wanted to be playing at the top level, pushing myself that little bit further.”

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk