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'As a man he's exceptional' - England forwards coach Rowntree on Brian O'Driscoll

The former Leicester Tiger also highlighted Paul O’Connell’s ‘aura’ ahead of the Twickenham showdown.

O'Driscoll during Ireland's captain's run at Tickenham this afternoon.
O'Driscoll during Ireland's captain's run at Tickenham this afternoon.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

NEITHER SIDE WILL be willing to cede an inch on the pitch tomorrow, but for now England and Ireland continue to pay tribute to each other’s strengths.

Graham Rowntree, England’s forwards coach, was still active as a player in the ’00s as Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell were establishing themselves as world-class, and the former Leicester Tiger even played alongside the Irish duo on the 2005 Lions tour.

Now that he has to plan against them as a coach, Rowntree has even greater respect for their abilities. The fact that he coached both players on last year’s Lions trip to Australia adds even more weight to his understanding of what they bring for Ireland

Speaking about O’Driscoll this afternoon at Twickenham, Rowntree acknowledged that tomorrow is a particularly special day for the Leinster centre, given that he will retire at the season’s end.

Beating us will mean everything to him. What a player; he’s an icon. He’s a thoroughly professional player and I really enjoyed working with him. As a man he’s exceptional.

“You hear the way Owen Farrell, Luther Burrell and Billy Vunipola speak about him, you can tell the respect they have for him. He took that disappointment in the Lions series on the chin.

“I remember the day when he was left out of the team, that afternoon he was sat down with the guys going through things on the computer, helping them and coaching them. That speaks volumes about the man.”

Paul O'Connell warms up O'Connell at training in Carton House this week. Source: ©INPHO/James Crombie

As for O’Connell, Rowntree was no less effusive in his praise. The Ireland captain will have little time for these words as he prepares himself to face a powerful English pack, but Rowntree was genuine in his sentiments.

“Paul’s up there with the best I’ve worked with. We lost him in the Lions series after that first Test against Australia and that was a huge blow for us. There’s an aura about Paul. He’s very, very good with young lads and people feed off that energy.

What I find really impressive about him is that he’s always hungry to learn. He’ll be pulling guys aside after training, saying, ‘show me how you do that tackle, show me that move’.

“He’s very analytical of training and his game, but it’s really struck me that he’s not content with what he’s achieved.”

O’Driscoll and O’Connell will be hoping to add further weight to those reputations at Twickenham tomorrow.

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Murray Kinsella

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