By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Ireland’s rising rugby star, Brian O’Driscoll, is certain to return for Saturday’s crucial Six Nations showdown against France at Lansdowne Road. O’Driscoll, who missed the opening victory over Italy in Rome with a shoulder injury, will be a marked man following his brilliant individual try-scoring performance in Paris last season.
The Blackrock and Leinster center ran in three sensational tries as the Irish pulled off an unexpected victory against the French and since that historic game, O’Driscoll’s stock has risen. He was selected to play for the prestigious invitation team, the Barbarians, against South Africa at the end of last year and he a banker to be included in the Lions’ squad for the tour of Australia later this summer.
O’Driscoll takes over in midfield from Mike Mullins, while Denis Hickie comes in on the wing for Shane Horgan. Otherwise, the team is unchanged from the one that defeated Italy 41-22.
Previously, Ireland had inevitably been underdogs in championship games against France. However, the home venue and some recent disappointing form by the French mean that there will be a massive weight of expectation on O’Driscoll and his teammates.
Meanwhile, the Blackrock game against DLSP All Ireland League last Saturday was shrouded in controversy when Blackrock’s prop, former international Gary Halpin, had to go off injured with a horrific cut to his ear, which required 40 stitches. Blackrock, who won 32-8, are considering citing a DLSP player following the incident, which was not detected by the three match officials.
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At the top of the table, Cork Constitution moved two points clear with an important 20-9 victory over Shannon at Thomond Park.
Galwegians stayed in second place as their impressive run continued with a narrow 13-12 victory against holders St. Mary’s at Templeville Road. Like Shannon, Ballymena’s challenge faltered when they were beaten 26-22 at home by Old Crescent.