London - Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll is not a betting man
but the captain of the last Irish side to win the Six Nations Grand Slam is
backing the 2018 version to emulate them.
But the 39-year-old former centre - Ireland's most capped
player - admitted it won't be easy toppling an England side unbeaten at
Twickenham since Eddie Jones took over after their 2015 World Cup debacle.
Adding extra spice to the encounter - which takes place on
Ireland's patron St Patrick's Day - is the possibility of England avenging
their defeat in Dublin last year that denied them successive Grand Slams.
"I do think they will beat England," O'Driscoll said
at the Laureus Awards prior to Ireland's bonus point win over Scotland, which
resulted in them ending England's two year reign as Six Nations champions.
"I liked the look of them at the start of the year. I
am not a punter but I had a small punt on them for the Slam."
O'Driscoll, fondly known as 'BOD', says head coach Joe
Schmidt is putting together a potentially formidable outfit - one that could
emulate the 2009 Grand Slam winners.
"I think they are building and have set themselves up
to be quite difficult to beat," said O'Driscoll.
"For any competition that is a good starting point.
Even if they are conceding tries they have been very effective at close quarters.
"The amount of tries they have scored in and around the
ruck - they will back themselves going to a line-out and producing."
O'Driscoll said taking on England at Twickenham was just the
test of mettle they required.
"They will push England bloody close," he said.
"Those are the sort of games they have to go and prove
"They've already achieved a lot in those type of games
having beaten the All Blacks (in Chicago in 2016) and their performance in the
last five minutes against France," he added, referring to Ireland's first
Six Nations match this season, which climaxed with Johnny Sexton's last gasp
drop goal to snatch victory.
"They're ticking a lot of boxes but Twickenham is a
hell of a box to tick and we haven't won there since 2010."
O'Driscoll insisted the Irish won't ease to victory, though.
"It will be last minute stuff, it will be all hands to
the pump," he said.
"But I think this team has it in them, there is a depth
to them both of quality and personality."
Rory Best, who along with full-back Rob Kearney is one of
the two survivors from the 2009 squad, says he is under no illusions as to the
size of the task.
"We're going to have to probably save the best for
last," said the 35-year-old, who made his 50th Six Nations appearance when
he lined-up against the Scots - only the eighth player to reach that landmark.
"That's what it's going to take to win everything next
Schmidt believes the likes of Best, Sexton, Conor Murray,
Cian Healy and Kearney have the stature of the 2009 stars such as O'Driscoll
and fly-half Ronan O'Gara.
"I think by pure evidence of performance and results, I
think you'd have to say so," said Schmidt.
"Three (Six Nations titles) in five years, there are
some very consistent personnel during that period."
Schmidt, who is likely to stand down after the 2019 World
Cup, said there is no way Ireland are going to Twickenham for a simple
"I think they're (England) going to be really
dangerous," said the 52-year-old New Zealander.
"They're wounded, but they're far from dead and