You’re in the Ireland squad for the RBS 6 Nations, how do you rate your chances in the competition?
As I always say, I think we have a very competitive squad and if we play to the standards that I know we can I think we’re going to be hard to compete with.
After seeing the other Nations announce their squads, who do you expect to be the toughest challenge?
I think England are going to throw a bit of a curve ball peoples way. Wales beat us fair and square in the quarter final and the Welsh teams are doing very well in the Pro 12 and in the European Cup. France are always going to be hard to beat. Italy are coming on leaps and bounds with their introduction into the Pro 12. Now it’s the second season for their clubs to be involved and they’re getting better and better the more time they spend with each other. Scotland will be sticky as well as we found playing against their clubs so they’re flying high. Edinburgh and Glasgow are doing very well in the Pro 12 and in the European Cup. So I really can’t pick out one.
You are now regarded as stalwarts for club and country, are there any players breaking through that you feel with have bright futures in the game?
There are lots of young players. I know with Leinster we are blessed especially with the back row. We have Rhys Ruddock and Leo Auva’a who is an unbelievable player with an unbelievable step. In the backs we’ve got Brendan Macken, Andrew Conway and Ian Madigan even though he’s not that young! Devin Toner is also starting to come of age in the pack. The list goes on and on. We’ve got props like Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Jamie Hagan so there’s a constant stream of talent. I think Leinster might be slightly ahead of the game when it comes to bringing talent through. I’m not too sure about the other provinces as I actually don’t watch a lot of rugby so I really can’t say.
Leinster has been an unstoppable force in the Heineken Cup recently winning the competition twice in three years. Why have you been so successful?
It’s hard to pin point one aspect, to me it’s the organisation as a whole from the training, the coaching, the strength conditioning, the videos analysis to the marketing and commercial team, they’re all at the top of their game. All this added together has made us the team we are today.
It seems Leinster and Toulouse are being billed as this year’s favourites, what’s your prediction?
I think we’ve got Cardiff at home and we’ve got to worry about that first. I don’t know who Toulouse have but there are a lot of good sides. Look at Munster, they have won all their group games. Ulster are going very well, they did well against Clermont and were unfortunate to lose. Nathan Hines our old team mate taking a bit of abuse over that game!
Who’s the hardest/toughest player you’ve ever played with and against?
Shane Jennings would be one of the toughest nuts - he’s even played with a broken arm!
Who’s the best player you have played alongside?
Brian O’Driscoll comes to mind. He is another tough nut and a great leader. Felipe Contepomi has always been a favourite of mine as well.
It’s seemingly ever popular to spend the last of you playing days abroad, would you ever consider a move to France or the Southern Hemisphere?
I had to strongly consider this last year when my contract was up. There’s a lot of things a player must consider, where you want to play, the organisation you want to work with, what’s best for you at the time. I stayed with Leinster because I think they are an organisation who are ahead of everyone else and because I’m ambitious and believe Leinster can deliver results. I’d have no problem going to play in France, South Africa, Australia or Japan.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen on the rugby pitch?
Playing against Neil Best was always a pleasure because he would come out with brilliant jokes at the bottom of a ruck. He once asked someone who was playing against him on Stephens’s day what he got from Santa after taking him down in a tackle… I thought it was quality!