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Ireland v England, Six Nations, Lansdowne Road, March 19
O'Driscoll keeps the faith
ESPNscrum Staff
March 19, 2011

Brian O'Driscoll has reiterated his belief that Ireland are close to producing a special performance.

The Irish host play host to Grand Slam-chasing England at Lansdowne Road today determined to spoil the party and at the same time avoid equalling their worst performance in the Championship since Italy joined in 2000. Two wins represents a poor return for an Ireland side that has grown accustomed to Six Nations success but O'Driscoll is confident that the future is bright.

"It might not happen for us in this Six Nations and we've run out of games, but we feel that if we keep working as hard as we have done, it will eventually happen for us," he said. "We've been good for 30-40-50 minutes, but not that full 80. I genuinely believe that performance is in us and is waiting to come out."

O'Driscoll led Ireland to the Grand Slam in 2009 and understands the pressure England will be under today. "England will be realistic. They have a manager in Martin Johnson who's been there and done it. He'll be telling them that nothing's owed to them," he said. "They'll have to grab it and they'll treat the game much like we are - as just another 80 minutes.

"What will come after that final whistle will come. There's no point trying to put extra pressure on yourself. Just live in the moment and play the best rugby you can. The team that beat us in the 2003 Grand Slam decider in Dublin had been so close on a number of occasions, losing in just one game.

"They used the pain of those defeats to get them right for 2003. This team has been building for a few years and now Martin Johnson has settled on a team he's comfortable with."

Ireland must also cast their minds back 12 years to 1999 for the last time they ended a championship without registering a win in Dublin. "Any time we play England there's great passion," said O'Driscoll. "It's a big game, more so for England because there's a Slam at the end of it, but from our own point of view, it's another chance to play top-class opposition.

"We also have big motivation in that we lost our only other home game in this Six Nations to France and we don't want to lose two from two. If we needed added impetus, that will be right up there.

"When you win two and lose two and don't have anything tangible to play for - we're not going to win a championship or Triple Crown - it's an opportunity to build something heading into an important six or seven month period. We'd prefer to win more game than we lose in this Six Nations and that's what this game gives us the opportunity to do."

Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy has vowed to "man-up" when he confronts England colossus Matt Banahan. At 6'7 and nearly 18 stones Banahan dwarfs Ireland's centre partnership of D'Arcy and O'Driscoll, who both stand 5'10" tall. Add inside centre Shontayne Hape, who is 6'2" and 16 stones, and England have an overwhelming size advantage in a key area of the game.

"Everybody's Matt's size in world rugby these days, except me by the looks of things!" he said. "He's a big, powerful guy. He's got a very strong running game. I'll try to be one step ahead but sometimes you have to rely on your defence and the fact that you're a good tackler. You just have to man up, make the hits and make them count."

Tomorrow O'Driscoll and D'Arcy will equal the 45-Test record for a centre partnership held by Will Carling and Jeremy Guscott, clocking up their 27th Six Nations start together in the process. Between them they have amassed 167 caps, while Banahan and Hape have made only 10 Test appearances each. A year ago Banahan had never played at centre, even at club level.

"We'll rely on our cuteness around the field and maybe seeing those little things that a new centre partnership wouldn't necessarily see," said D'Arcy. "Brian and I look to exploit it when there's someone new in the team. You wouldn't say there any weaknesses individually in that team, but maybe the continuity won't be there. But Banahan got 40 minutes in the last game, so he's had plenty of game time there. We won't be expecting any gifts."

"England have good back line runners. They have Chris Ashton, Ben Foden and Mark Cueto, who are a handful, and two big bruisers in the centres. Hape must pull the strings now that Tindall's out and bring Banahan into the game.

"I've been impressed with England as a backline and 12 is quite a key position. Hape has a good step off both feet, he's comfortable on the ball and he's quite a big fella, so he brings that directness. He's playing a little bit like a second five-eighth, alongside Toby Flood.

"He's a string puller as well, but coming from a league background he's not afraid to carry the ball. You can see the league crossover there with Ashton. The two of them seem to work well together."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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