Updated: Sunday, 16 March 2014 01:54 | By Agence France-Presse

'Impish' O'Driscoll is Ireland's finest, says Wood

Brian O'Driscoll will bow out of international rugby following Ireland's final game against France at the Stade de France later on Saturday as arguably their finest ever player.


'Impish' O'Driscoll is Ireland's finest, says Wood

Brian O'Driscoll during the Six Nations rugby union match between France and Ireland on March 15, 2014 in Saint-Denis, France - by Lionel Bonaventure

However, his former captain and fellow Ireland great Keith Wood told AFP anyone who says they thought he would turn into the greatest player from the start were spoofing.

O'Driscoll, 35, enters his final game on the same ground where he announced his great talent with a hat-trick of tries in 2000 in what is Ireland's only victory over the French in the past 42 years.

Victory later Saturday -- in which O'Driscoll will extend his world record haul of caps to 141 including a record 65 Six Nations appearances and 47 test tries -- would set the seal on his Test career with the Six Nations title.

Wood, who won 58 Ireland caps at hooker, said that what set him apart was his approach to training once he became part of the national squad aged 20 in 1999.

"He is the greatest Irish player of all time but anyone who says they saw him and thought from the start he was going to be a great player would be spoofing," the 42-year-old told AFP.

"What set him apart was his approach and standard in training. His speed and accuracy. The standards he set in training were phenomenal."

However, Wood said that contrary to his image on the pitch especially when he captained the side he didn't find rousing dressing room speeches easy to come by.

"He was not very assuming and he was quiet to start with. Sat in his corner and got on with his own role.

"He told me that he was uncomfortable speaking off the pitch before the match.

"For him it didn't come naturally. It was only when he ran onto the pitch that he found his voice and asserted himself."

Wood, though, said that he didn't want to make him sound as if he kept himself apart from the rest of the players.

"He has a great sense of humour. He's a bit of an imp," he said.

Former Ireland and British and Irish Lions wing Shane Horgan, who played with O'Driscoll at their province Leinster, said that Ireland as a country had gone against character when it came to how they regarded O'Driscoll, or 'BOD' as he is fondly nicknamed.

"All the hype ahead of his final home game with Italy (last Saturday), there was no cynicsm in a country that is full of it," the 35-year-old told AFP.

"They love his bravery and his talent. Talent is brilliant but when you are putting your body on the line for your country incessantly as he has done then they love you."

Horgan, who was capped 65 times for his country, said his former team-mate had changed something in the attitude of the Irish side.

"We always had spirit but the way in which Brian could compete and beat some of the best players in the world gave the rest of the team the belief that they could do so as well," said Horgan.

"Whether he's the best Irish player of all time is difficult to say. I mean I am relying on watching sepia images of Mike Gibson and only read about what Jackie Kyle achieved so it is tough to compare from my point of view.

"All I would say is look at his career and his longevity and look at how he played against Italy last weekend (he created three of Ireland's tries) in a pressure match from a personal point of view."

However, Horgan said that perhaps the outstanding feature about O'Driscoll had been his being impervious to all the pressure and expectation surrounding him throughout his career.

"He's had to deal with a lot of adoration and expectation throughout his career and he has worn it lightly on his shoulders."

For Wood there was just one more wish to be granted.

"Lets just hope it goes one step further and ends in a proper fairytale later," he said.

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