Triple Lions tourist Brian O’Driscoll has been described as the ‘heart and soul of the Ireland team’ by his former provincial coach.
O’Driscoll who skippered the Lions in 2005 and also toured in 2001 and 2009, is currently preparing for the new domestic season with Leinster – the team with which he won Heineken Cup and Magners League honours under Australian Michael Cheika.
Cheika has now moved on to a fresh challenge with Parisian giants Stade Francais but the man who was able to call on O’Driscoll’s sublime talents for five years is full of praise for what the 31-year-old has achieved on both the domestic and international stage.
"He is very much the heart and soul of the Ireland team,” Cheika told the Irish Independent.
“What he has done so well, he has adjusted his own game according to what the team needs from him. He knows what he has to do for the team on a particular day.
"He has been an invaluable player at Leinster because he stood up to say 'I am staying with this province, it is my province and I want to be here'.
“Also, he has improved his game as well, and his leadership has improved. He is an all-round better person.
"It is not hard to coach him. You just make him feel alright, give him the right skill practice, involve him in the responsibility of how we are going to play the game and let him go.”
O’Driscoll has made no comments to suggest he intends to retire any time in the near future and could yet make a fourth Lions tour to Australia in three years time even he previously admitted that would be unlikely.
And while Cheika believes O’Driscoll is one of the best players of the modern era, his own experiences in Dublin leave him convinced that Ireland will find a way to cope when the great man does decide to call it a day.
"What happens to Ireland when he goes? There have been great players in every generation from all countries. Brian is a great player and the game will be worse off without him playing, that's for sure,” added Cheika.
“But there will be space for someone else to come and take up the mantle and that is the evolution of the game.
"I think Ireland have got the players to take over. Not to be another O'Driscoll, but to be a great player in their own right."