BOD the talk of the town

Dublin will be at the heart of the action this weekend and Brian O'Driscoll could well be the centre of attention...again. [more]

BOD the talk of the town

Dublin will be at the heart of the action this weekend and Brian O’Driscoll could well be the centre of attention…again.

The Sunday showdown between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium will see one of them just a win away from claiming the Triple Crown and also a huge step closer to the overall title. Italy’s stunning victory over France in Rome means Grand Slam hopes have already gone for Les Bleus, Wales and Scotland.

But on the individual front, British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland will be out on the prowl again this weekend assessing form ahead of the 10-match tour of Hong Kong and Australia in the summer with the Dublin clash providing him with the opportunity to run the rule over up to 46 of his potential tourists.

O’Driscoll has hinted that this could be his final championship – “there is a strong possibility it could be my last" – but on a weekend when a number of markers were put down to be in Gatland’s chosen few, perhaps no-one put his case more compellingly than the 2005 tour captain. He looked as hungry as ever to crown his remarkable career with a fourth successive Lions tour.

And while he was not actually wearing the captain’s armband, everything he did smacked of leading from the front and pulling those around him through both the good and the bad times. No wonder he picked up yet another Man of the Match award! And not far behind him, laying down his own Lions marker, was flanker Sean O’Brien with 23 tackles.

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Meanwhile, at Twickenham a host of white shirts – and a smattering of blue – put their hands up for early consideration. It adds up to a glut of head-to-head contests in Dublin that Gatland and his staff will put under the microscope – with the battle for the influential first choice No10 spot high on the agenda.

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Owen Farrell ran the show for England against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday

Ireland and Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton has the greater experience with club and country but Saracens star Owen Farrell has already displayed a maturity and temperament way beyond his 21 years. Then there is the potential midfield battle between O’Driscoll and Manu Tuilagi, the wing dual of Chris Ashton and Simon Zebo and the last line of defence – and counter-attacking threat – of Rob Kearney and Alex Goode.

Up front, the contest at the breakdown between England captain Chris Robshaw and O’Brien could be pivotal on the day and have a major impact on Lions selection, with front row forwards like Cian Healy, Rory Best, Dan Cole and Tom Youngs all also desperate to put forward their claims.

While something will have to give in Dublin between those two unbeaten nations, Wales and Scotland will both want to bounce back against France and Italy respectively.

Sam Warburton’s Wales would have wondered how they managed to lose 30-22 to Ireland with the greater possession and territory, but even in defeat full back Leigh Halfpenny and No8 Toby Faletau did their tour chances no harm, while debutant lock Andrew Coombs announced his arrival on the international stage in combative style.

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Back rowers Toby Faletau and Sean O'Brien both impressed in the opening fixture in Cardiff

However, the challenge of bouncing back in a hostile Parisian atmosphere against a French side still smarting from their 23-18 defeat to Italy will certainly fully test Warburton’s leadership credentials.

Scotland, beaten 38-18 at Twickenham, will welcome a buoyant Azzurri to Murrayfield and the hosts will be banking on further commanding performances from No8 Johnnie Beattie, lock Richie Gray and full back Stuart Hogg in particular as they bid to get their championship challenge up and running.

Round 1 has already given Gatland plenty of food for thought – and Round 2 promises to supply more of the same.

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