Brian O’Driscoll’s considered words in the immediate aftermath of Leinster’s Heineken Cup triumph cut through the chaos of his teammates’ deserved celebrations nicely. Articulate and precise, they also spoke volumes for his esteemed character.
Applauding his province for developing a “dynasty,” the veteran centre bore pride in an immense achievement. Outlining the contribution of injured absentees Eoin O’Malley and Luke Fitzgerald, there was a sympathetic, human touch. Most tellingly though, O’Driscoll expressed his desire to continue the happiest of habits – winning.
Even at the grand old age of 33, the Dubliner is not finished yet, a fact everyone should be extremely glad about. After all, on the substantial evidence of a fantastic Saturday evening at Twickenham, he has plenty more to offer. Throughout Leinster’s 42-14 win over Ulster, their most seasoned international was sublime. Defying human physiology even to take his place on the pitch – remarkably he underwent keyhole surgery on his knee just eight days previously – O’Driscoll produced something close to his world-beating best.
There were deft passes to keep his backline purring and demonic tackles to shackle his impressive opposite number Darren Cave. A back-handed offload to Sean O’Brien to incite Cian Healy’s try was otherworldly. The odd turnover also cropped up – testament to incredible strength and stealth, especially amid the heady atmosphere of knockout rugby. It was an all-round display that left me clutching for hyperbolae. I have now given up, so here is a statement that defines O’Driscoll’s enduring authority: he needs to captain the 2013 British Lions tour to Australia.
My reasoning is almost certainly influenced by the experience of being surrounded by 82,000 screaming Irishmen at the weekend – something from which my senses are still recovering. However, the Dubliner gets my unwavering vote. For a start, his ability to coax his teammates to their potential is outstanding. Rampaging flanker O’Brien was the official man-of-the-match at the weekend and either Jonny Sexton or Rob Kearney will certainly take the ERC European Player of the Year award, but confidence and fearlessness filters down from the top. O’Driscoll has instilled it.
Phenomenal flanker Sam Warburton appears the pundits’ choice to lead the Lions Down Under, but his battle with Aussie openside David Pocock will require a monstrous amount of energy. Better to release the shackles of media responsibility and team selection so that the young Welshman can fully concentrate on the pivotal breakdown war. Besides, O’Driscoll seems to thrive on the other stuff. Nit-pickers may point to Ireland’s failings on the international stage in recent years. A ‘golden generation’ of exceptional players has failed to deliver anything more than a solitary Grand Slam in 2009. When the World Cup has rolled around, they have been nothing more than underwhelming also-rans.
Undeniably, O’Driscoll has been at the hub of these excruciating failings but it is more significant to examine what his absence does to teams. Take the disastrous mauling of Sir Clive Woodward’s 2005 Lions in New Zealand after their captain had been spear-tackle-assassinated by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu, for example. Look at how meek Ireland were in this years’ Six Nations.
A great deal can happen over 12 years in sport. Back in 2001, Graham Henry gave a O’Driscoll the chance to announce himself at The Gabba in Brisbane. With an amazing showing including an electric assist and scorching 60-metres score, the fresh-faced 22 year-old did exactly that. Very loudly.
That the Lions were beaten in that series – and the subsequent two also – makes their return to the southern hemisphere next summer hugely important. Whoever is at the helm will need a battle-hardened edge to go with a host of personal accolades. For mine, that has to be O’Driscoll. There is life in the old BOD yet.