Rowntree: O'Driscoll's an icon

Congleton Guardian: Graham Rowntree Graham Rowntree

Graham Rowntree has warned his RBS 6 Nations title hopefuls that "exceptional" Brian O'Driscoll will be desperate to mark his last appearance against England with a victory.

O'Driscoll is to retire at the end of the season following a decorated professional career spanning 15 years, but not before he has clashed with the Red Rose for a 13th and final time.

Rowntree, England's forwards coach, played alongside the Leinster great on the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand and was part of the management teams in 2009 and 2013.

"Beating us will mean everything to him. What a player... he's an icon," Rowntree said.

"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."

Rowntree was part of the Lions management team that dropped O'Driscoll for the climatic final Test against Australia last July in one of the most controversial decisions in the tourists' history.

"He took that disappointment in the Lions series on the chin," Rowntree said.

"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."

O'Driscoll will equal the world record set by former Australia scrum-half George Gregan of 139 caps when he faces England.

Rowntree spoke in equally glowing terms of another of Ireland's two Lions captains, Paul O'Connell.

"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," he said.

"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 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."

England are making their first appearance of the year at Twickenham following two games on the road, having lost narrowly to France in Paris and routing Scotland at Murrayfield.

In an attempt to draw greater inspiration from their support, Stuart Lancaster's players will disembark from the team bus earlier than usual when they arrive at the ground, resulting in a longer walk through the crowds of fans.

"It means everything to us to be back at Twickenham. It's a special place this stadium, we love playing here," Rowntree said.

"We've been on the road for two games which brings its own challenges. We're back here with our fans in our house.

"I think our bus stopping further out is a great idea, enabling us to engage with our fans earlier.

"I remember as a player the feeling of coming off the bus and walking through the crowd. It was very uplifting and hopefully it will work in our favour."

David Wilson starts at tighthead prop following the season-ending neck injury sustained by Dan Cole.

The Bath front row has been limited to just 47 minutes of club rugby in two months because of calf and back problems, but Rowntree is backing him to stay the course.

"David's not been sat twiddling his thumbs. He's fit and strong and I have no doubts about him lasting for as long as we need him to," he said.

"I've been working with him for six years and he's maturing well. He was approaching the form of his life in the autumn.

"He's been unlucky with his calf, but from what I've seen of him this week he's not dropped off at all, he's slotted straight back in."

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