Ireland lock Malcolm O'Kelly has applauded Paul O'Connell's appointment as skipper for the 2004 RBS 6 Nations opener against France and revealed he first sensed his leadership qualities during the World Cup.
O'Connell emerged as one of the stars of the tournament with his uncompromising style and towering work at the line-out, with many critics handing him a slot in their world XV second row.
And the Munster forward, who will win only his 16th cap on Sunday following an injury-hit two years, moved another rung up the the international ladder by landing the Ireland captaincy.
Brian O'Driscoll's failure to recover from a hamstring injury left the position open and coach Eddie O'Sullivan recognised there was only one man for the job, despite his lack of experience as a leader.
But O'Sullivan has not been the only member of the Ireland set-up to identify the 24-year-old's rich potential as 59-cap stalwart O'Kelly revealed the new skipper has the full backing of his team.
He said: "Paul very much deserves the position. He's held in very high regard by all the other players and has their total respect because of the way he plays the game.
"He's been given a great opportunity to lead the team and I will help him in every way I can as his second row partner. There was a feeling during the World Cup that he could go all the way and captain the side, and now he's done it."
O'Kelly has kept out the promising Donncha O'Callaghan who has been in magnificent form for Munster and O'Connell revealed that the Leinster veteran is still the bench mark for young Irish locks.
"At Munster I would be jumping at four, so a lot of the line-out work will be up to me. But playing at five with Ireland means a lot of that pressure is off me - Mal is the main source of ball at the line-out," he said.
"Playing with Donncha at Munster is great because we're both the same type of characters. But at the same time it's brilliant playing with Mal as well - he was the standard for me when I was coming through the ranks.
"He has 59 caps now and has been one of the best second rows in the world for the last five or six years. He's the level that Donncha - and any lock in the country - are trying to get to."