Irish superstar set to hand up the boots, after Six Nations clash this weekend.
Brian O’Driscoll likes to keep his emotions in check but even he will find those difficult to control when arguably Ireland’s greatest ever rugby player brings down the curtain on his international career in Paris on Saturday.
The 35-year-old centre has won three European Cups with Leinster, captained Ireland to only their second Five/Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009 and three other Triple Crowns. He has a world record 140 caps (including eight British and Irish Lions Tests) and holds the Five/Six Nations try record with 26, having broken a 78-year-old record in March 2011.
The many highs have also been countered by many lows.
He will retire having never threatened to land the highest honour in team rugby, the World Cup — with the 2007 edition the nadir when a shambolic team seen at the outset as dark horses exited at the group stage.
Injuries robbed him of some crucial matches, especially the serious shoulder injury he suffered after the spear tackle on him in the opening minute of the first Lions test with the All Blacks in 2005 — the second of his four British and Irish Lions tours — when he was captain.
Indeed the Lions was never to prove a happy hunting ground for him as on his fourth tour he suffered the ignominy of being dropped by Warren Gatland — the man who gave him his international debut in 1999 when he was Ireland coach — for last year’s decisive third and final Test against Australia.
While the Lions won the game and on the face of it justified Gatland’s selection, the hurt and anger it provoked in O’Driscoll was evident.
“Yes, there’s resentment, of course,” O’Driscoll said. “Is he (Gatland) on the Christmas card list? Unlikely.
“When you’re left with disappointment that way, you can’t but feel a little bit of resentment.”
However, for team-mates and opponents alike there is no doubting his supremely gifted talent.
“He is like a UFO, he is from another planet,” said former France scrum-half and now Toulouse backs coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, who faced him on several occasions.
For “BOD”, as he is affectionately known in his homeland and whose biography was titled ‘In BOD we trust’, it is appropriate that his international career should come to an end at the Stade de France.
For it was there that he announced his truly great talent in a 2000 Six Nations clash.
With the stadium bathed in sunshine, O’Driscoll scored a hat-trick of tries for Ireland’s first win in the City of Light in 28 years.
The fact it came the day after Ireland’s national holiday St Patrick’s Day only added to the aura already building around the good looking, erudite and public relations officer’s dream.
Present Ireland handler Joe Schmidt benefited enormously from O’Driscoll’s talent when he coached Leinster, where they combined for two European Cup wins and a European Challenge title to boot.
“He’s creative, courageous, and has a bit of magic. In these days of big centres, perhaps he’s the final bastion for smaller centres,” opined Schmidt.
Aside from what seems sure to be a flood of job offers, retirement from the international scene will allow O’Driscoll, son of two doctors and who has two sisters, to spend more time with his Irish actress wife Amy and his one year-old daughter Sadie.
Great people, whether sportsmen or politicians, sometimes lose sight of when is a good time to retire from the spotlight, but O’Driscoll made clear a few years ago that he would not fall into that trap.
“Once the tingle leaves you, it is time to hang up your boots,” he said.
Factfile on Brian O’Driscoll ahead of the Ireland centre’s final Test before international retirement against France in the Six Nations in Paris on Saturday:
Full name: Brian Gerald O’Driscoll
Birthdate: January 21, 1979
Major teams played for: Leinster, Ireland, British and Irish Lions
Height: 5ft 10in
Test record (matches, starts, substitute appearances, points, tries, drop goals, won, lost, drawn, win %):
Ireland: 132 131 1 245 46 5 79 51 2 60.60
Lions: 8 8 0 5 1 0 2 6 0 25.00
Total: 140 139 1 250 47 5 81 57 2 58.57
1996: Makes Ireland schools debut.
1999: Wins three Ireland Under-21 caps.
1999: In June makes Test debut against Australia in Brisbane.
1999: In August makes provincial debut for Leinster.
1999: In November scores first international try, against the United States at that year’s World Cup.
2000: Scores a stunning hat-trick of tries as Ireland beat France 27-25 — their first win in Paris in 28 years.
2001: Selected for British and Irish Lions tour of Australia. Plays in all three Tests in a 2-1 series loss.
2002: First given Ireland captaincy.
2003: Appears in second World Cup where Ireland lose 43-21 to France in the quarter-finals in Melbourne — Ireland great Keith Wood’s final Test before retirement.
2004: Made permanent Ireland captain. Leads Ireland to first Triple Crown for 19 years.
2005: Named Lions captain for tour of New Zealand.
June 25 – Ruled out of the rest of the Lions tour after dislocating his left shoulder in the first 90 seconds of the first Test against the All Blacks in Christchurch after a controversial spear tackle by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu.
2007: On March 17 surpasses Wood’s record of 36 Tests as Ireland captain in a 51-24 win over Italy in the Six Nations.
2007: Appears in third World Cup where Ireland, disappointingly, fail to get out of their pool.
2008: Captains Leinster to the Celtic League title.
2009: In March leads Ireland to only their second Grand Slam — their first since 1948. Scores four tries in five Tests as he is named player of the tournament.
2009: In May drops a goal as Leinster beat Leicester 19-16 to win the European Cup final.
2009: In June plays two Tests on the Lions’ losing tour of South Africa, but misses the third with concussion.
2010: In January voted World Rugby player of the decade by Rugby World magazine.
2011: On March 19 scores a record 25th Six Nations try in a 24-8 win over England.
2011: On May 21 wins his second European Cup as Leinster beat Northampton 33-22.
2011: In October, at his fourth World Cup, leads Ireland to the quarter-finals where they are beaten 22-10 by Wales in Wellington.
2012: On May 19 helps Leinster retain the European Cup with a 42-14 win over Irish rivals Ulster.
2013: On March 20 suspended for three weeks, having been cited for stamping in Ireland’s final Six Nations game against Italy.
2013: On April 30, selected for his fourth Lions tour.
2013: In July controversially left out of the match-day 23 for the Lions’ series decider by coach Warren Gatland — who as Ireland boss gave him his Test debut — but the combined side beat Australia in his absence.
2013: In November plays in Ireland’s heart-breaking last gasp 24-22 loss to New Zealand — a result that denies the Irish a first win over the All Blacks.
2014: On March 8 becomes world’s most-capped player of all time when he makes his 140th Test appearance, and last at home, in a 46-7 Six Nations thrashing of Italy where he lays on three tries.