Oval Talk

England loss ends O’Driscoll’s chances of retiring on perfect high

Brian O'Driscoll's last appearance for Ireland in the familiar surroundings of Twickenham on Saturday did not end the way the record-equalling centre would have hoped.

The 35-year-old, known simply as BOD to his legions of fans who believe he does indeed walk on water, equalled Australian George Gregan's world record of international caps in Ireland's 13-10 defeat by the oldest of enemies.

O'Driscoll has now played 139 tests and nothing short of injury will stop him moving past scrumhalf Gregan's mark in two weeks' time against Italy in Dublin.

The loss to England, however, will rankle with O'Driscoll, who was replaced in the final minute by Paddy Jackson, as it ended Ireland's hopes of a Triple Crown and possible grand slam.

He had said before this year's tournament started that he wanted to end his international career with a bang and could think of no better way than retiring with a world record 141 test caps - he also played eight times for the British & Irish Lions - and a second Six Nations title and grand slam.

A Gaelic footballer in his youth, O'Driscoll won his first cap on Ireland's tour of Australia in 1999 as a raw 20-year-old, giving him the distinction of playing for his country before he played senior rugby for provincial side Leinster.

He came to international prominence when he used his searing pace to destructive effect against France in 2000, scoring a hat-trick of tries that gave Ireland their first win over the French in Paris since 1972.

O'Driscoll followed that up with standout performances for the Lions on their 2001 tour of Australia, which included a brilliant individual try in the first test that showcased his strength, pace and footwork as he shrugged off two tacklers and stepped around another.

He replaced the hugely popular Keith Wood as national captain following the 2003 World Cup and was given the reins of the highly anticipated 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand.

His tour, however, became enshrouded in controversy when he was dumped on his shoulder by rival captain Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu in the first minute of the first test at Christchurch's Lancaster Park.

The injury ended his tour, although the controversy still remains almost 10 years later with debate amongst pundits and fans as to whether the 'spear tackle' had been deliberate to drive him out of the game.

The injury was just one of many O'Driscoll had to endure in his career. Knee and shoulder issues have restricted the number of games he has played for Leinster, while he had surgery on his neck after the 2011 World Cup, which many thought could end his career then.

Those injuries, and Father Time, have dulled his attacking edge, though coaches and players alike point to his distribution and organisational skills on defence as still being world class.

Injury has not, like some of his less fortunate colleagues, forced him into retirement and the competitive desire to tick off a few more achievements kept him going after the last World Cup in New Zealand.

O'Driscoll's ultra-competitiveness was no more evident than in 2013 when he was dropped by Lions coach Warren Gatland for the series decider against Australia.

At the time O'Driscoll spoke of his disappointment, tweeting he was "totally gutted" at being dropped from what would have been his last match in a Lions jersey after four tours.

Disappointment was again etched across his face last year when Aaron Cruden converted Ryan Crotty's injury time try for the All Blacks, which ensured New Zealand retained their 108-year unbeaten run against Ireland.

He may not have achieved the victory he wanted against New Zealand last November, or England on Saturday to send him into retirement a happy man, but O'Driscoll's legacy has been the transformation of the Irish game in the professional era.

"Brian has spread confidence across the whole set-up," Paul O'Connell, who replaced him as Ireland captain, told the Irish Independent earlier this week.

"I believe that any team taking the field with Brian involved always feels they have a chance of winning. You see that confidence now spread across the provinces."

Reuters