Evergreen O'Driscoll still Ireland's star

Brian O'Driscoll laid to rest doubts over his fitness in Ireland's victory in Wales

Yahoo! Contributor Network

A great deal of talk surrounded Brian O'Driscoll ahead of Ireland's opening game against Wales, with the 33-year-old replaced by Jamie Heaslip as Ireland captain and the centre hinting this could be his last Six Nations campaign.

It left lingering questions about O'Driscoll's fitness, form and state of mind - with even the centre himself admitting he is ready to wind down a decorated Ireland career which has seen the Leinster man lift the Six Nations trophy and captain his country in 83 Tests.

O'Driscoll missed out on Ireland's autumn schedule due to an ankle injury and only returned to Leinster's starting XV for their victory over Edinburgh in the RaboDirect Pro12 in early January, just under a month before the Millennium Stadium encounter. Therefore there were doubts about how he would bounce back from his latest fitness setback.

But there was never any doubt that he would be selected: Ireland's second-most capped player with 120 (before the game) and their record try scorer (46), he had also made the most starts in the Six Nations (55) and is the competition's most prolific try scorer (25) - the man is a winner.

And he rose to the occasion, showing great hands to feed Simon Zebo for the opening try - a move which left former England head coach Sir Clive Woodword salivating - before adding to his own Six Nations try tally at the start of the second half.

That showed the best of O'Driscoll - knowing when to keep it simple as well as how to deliver a ruthless blow.

From that score on, he was asked to deliver an outstanding defensive display as he produced a series of try-saving tackles to frustrate Wales, who finally strung some phases together. He showed no hesitation to put his battered frame on the line for the Irish cause.

Inevitably there will be those who suggest that losing the captaincy only served to motivate him. That may be partly true, but in the many interviews the Ireland No.13 has completed over the past decade he has always emphasised his desire to put his country's interests ahead of his own - and Saturday was no different.

"Who doesn't like man of the match? They're few and far between these days," O'Driscoll laughed. "I still see myself as a leader within the team, helping Jamie out when I can. I don't think I play any differently with the captaincy or not."

All the greatest teams possess more than one leader - the captain is a mere figurehead. A winning side needs to have three or four strong-willed personalities with the mental fortitude to make big calls in lieu with their skipper, and Heaslip will benefit from O'Driscoll's input as the Six Nations progresses. And it's no surprise that coach Declan Kidney wants O'Driscoll to continue beyond their current campaign following his Cardiff display.

"The bottom line is you would love to have the guy around forever, wouldn't you? But if you look at the performance he put in, that is not easy on the body."

Next up for O'Driscoll - and his long-term team-mate Gordon D'Arcy - will be the prospect of England's all-conquering backline which will potentially include Billy Twelvetrees and a fit-again Manu Tuilagi. It will prove the ultimate test of one of rugby's best partnerships in the past decade.

View Comments