Has the end come for O'Driscoll, Irish fans ask
DUBLIN (AFP) –
The top question for Irish rugby fans on Sunday was not so much the future of coach Declan Kidney as much as whether talisman Brian O’Driscoll had played his last game in the green Irish shirt in Dublin.
The 34-year-old centre, who won 124 caps during his career and scored 46 tries, did not comment on the talk after Saturday’s tense 13-13 Six Nations draw with the French.
However, a season that started with many believing O’Driscoll would battle on into next year has swung the other way as several factors have intervened to push him towards calling an end to his stellar career for his Leinster province and Ireland.
Becoming a father for the first time with the arrival of his baby daughter Sadie last month, and the disappointing Irish Six Nations campaign – they have three points ahead of the final game with Italy next Saturday – have played on his mind.
Also the ignominious dropping from the squad of his close friend and record caps holder Ronan O’Gara last week was another blow following on from O’Driscoll being contentiously replaced as national captain by Jamie Heaslip.
The Irish media mainly believe the French game was his final home curtain call at Lansdowne Road, French coach Philippe Saint-Andre also agreed, citing it as a factor which had motivated the Irish team and intimidated his players.
The Sunday Independent plastered a photo of O’Driscoll – who is likely to go on his fourth Lions tour in the summer – with his wife, the actress Amy Huberman, immediately after the match with tears streaming down her face and the title: ‘Her Hero’s Last Stand.’
Former Ireland lock turned journalist Neil Francis said there was no better time for him to go.
“Very few get to go out on their own terms,” wrote the 36-times capped Francis.
“He has his legacy; he has his health intact. This is as good a time as any to go.”
O’Driscoll’s contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union expires later this year, but Kidney has pleaded with him to continue his Test career into next season as he contemplates his future.
There is no doubt the forthcoming British and Irish Lions tour to Australia would be a fitting stage for O’Driscoll to bow out from the game, yet Kidney believes he is still good enough to keep playing for at least one more season.
“It’s a decision for Brian obviously, but I’m hoping this won’t be his last game as he’s such a huge asset,” Kidney said.
O’Driscoll as usual, given his fearlessness in the tackle, exited the match with scars aplenty – notably groggy too after a brave tackle on the big French prop Vincent Debaty.
“It was as someone noted, as if he was being held together by sticking plaster,” opined the Sunday Independent.
“If yesterday was truly the last time we saw Brian O’Driscoll perform for his country on home soil then the former Ireland captain left us with some valediction.
“He left us with a sense of noble defiance and indefatigable spirit. True to the character that has always defined him.”