Brian Gerald O’Driscoll
Age 32 (21 January 1979)
Weight 5ft 10in
Ireland caps 112
Ireland points 235 (44T, 5DG)
Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll has a plethora of honours but has yet to taste World Cup success. Will things change in 2011?
One look at his record confirms why Brian O’Driscoll was voted Player of the Decade for the 2000s by Rugby World readers last year. He is Ireland’s most-capped player, the nation’s most prolific try-scorer, has captained his country more than twice as many times as his nearest rival and in this year’s Six Nations broke the record for the number of championship touchdowns. He has won the Heineken Cup with Leinster, captained the Lions and led Ireland to a first Grand Slam in 61 years. He’s a legend, so what’s his secret?
“I always try to improve,” says O’Driscoll. “You should work on your strengths as much as your weaknesses. You’re renowned for some good things – why not make them truly outstanding? Keep chipping away at the things you need to improve but if a player has great feet, brilliant defence or incredible composure, he should look to enhance those skills.”
O’Driscoll is guaranteed a place in Irish rugby folklore as arguably their greatest player and captain of all time, but there is an element missing from his glittering career – he has never been a World Cup hero in the same way as Jonny Wilkinson, John Eales and the like.
The 2011 World Cup will be O’Driscoll’s fourth and almost certainly his last, so it will be fitting if he and Ireland can shine in New Zealand. O’Driscoll bounced onto the World Cup stage in 1999 with a try against the USA. He was dubbed a “boy wonder” by the media, but Ireland’s campaign ended in a quarter-final play-off defeat by Argentina.
By 2003 the emerging talent had blossomed and O’Driscoll was regarded as a brilliant attacking force with a deadly sidestep and vision to match, as well as an outstanding, bone-juddering defender who contributed as much as any back-rower at the breakdown.
Ireland headed for the World Cup in Australia hoping to reach the semi-finals. O’Driscoll got on the scoreboard in the last group match, which Ireland lost 17-16 to the hosts. Early in the second half he outfoxed two defenders to touch down by the corner flag. He also dropped a goal and the Irish Independent said: “O’Driscoll strutted his stuff on this Melbourne stage as only he can, his try testimony to the rare talent he is.”
That defeat left Ireland facing France in the quarter-finals and O’Driscoll’s two late tries were scant consolation as they lost 43-21. He said: “As I walked off the pitch there was nothing but a numbing sensation of acute disappointment.” Worse was to come at the next World Cup – much worse. Ireland went into France 2007 in red-hot form, tipped as potential champions. But from the outset it all went wrong for the O’Driscoll-led team. Ireland failed to recover their form after struggling to despatch Namibia (32-17) and Georgia (14-10) early on. They had come within a squeak of a Grand Slam earlier that year, but they were never at the races in France and crashed out before the knockout phase.
As O’Driscoll says: “My most difficult period was in 2007‑08. I was named Player of the Six Nations in 2007 – but I had a long lay-off and didn’t play again that season. I came back very heavy and while I got into reasonable shape, that hurt me. I didn’t have it in the 2007 World Cup and never got going throughout 2008.”
He certainly had it in 2009, though, and the pundits who had been writing his career obituaries at the turn of the year couldn’t have been more wrong. He scored six tries in eight Tests, led Ireland to a Grand Slam, won the Heineken Cup and starred for the Lions. He may be the wrong side of 30, but he is still going strong with plenty in the tank – hence his decision to sign for a further two years with Leinster and Ireland.
“I’d planned maybe finishing after the World Cup this year, but the closer I got to it I was still enjoying my rugby so I didn’t see any reason to quit,” he says. “As long as I enjoy it and feel I still have the capabilities to perform to the level I want to, I’ll continue playing. I still have as much hunger and desire as I ever had, if not more. And I’m thoroughly enjoying my rugby.”
Ireland also showed they still have plenty to offer when they beat England on the last day of this year’s Six Nations, so can O’Driscoll weave his magic at the World Cup and put the cherry on the top of the rich and wonderful cake of his career? You can never count him out.
This article appeared in Part 1 of our Rugby World Cup Supplement.
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