Test span: 1999-2014
Ireland caps: 133 (132 starts)
Lions caps: 8
Test points: 250 (47T, 5DG)
Rugby’s Greatest: Brian O’Driscoll
He was only knocked out cold once – playing for Leinster Schools aged 17 – but Brian O’Driscoll typified the unremitting valour that team-mates respect and supporters adore.
Few men can touch his 141 caps, and only once – on his sixth appearance, against Romania – did Ireland’s most legendary player not start the match. He rarely left the field early either; on one occasion when he did, 55 minutes into a match against the All Blacks after a tackle on Brodie Retallick left him concussed, Ireland famously let slip a 22-10 lead.
By that stage of his career O’Driscoll lacked the out-and-out pace that had brought him so thrillingly to prominence. There had been the hat-trick that defeated France in Paris in 2000, and then a glorious try for the 2001 British & Irish Lions in Brisbane that sent the rapturous fans into choruses of Waltzing O’Driscoll.
Soon, the man whose first rugby experience had been as a tiny second-row for the Willow Park U12 fourth team was captaining his country, at the age of 23. He was to perform that duty 83 times – only Richie McCaw and Sergio Parisse have led a country more often.
O’Driscoll’s 47 Test tries – a record for both a centre and an Irishman – are all the more remarkable for his astigmatism. The condition left him with only 50% of the average person’s unaided vision. He had laser treatment in 2009 but he’d played 100-odd Tests by then – just think how good he would have been with proper eyesight!
When the zip in his running waned slightly, he compensated with his defence in the line and around rucks, his ability to spring to his feet and jackal the ball making him a turnover king.
He was a master of the interception score, so too the close-range burrowing snipe. Yet his try-saving tackle on Scotland’s Phil Godman in 2009 gave him as much satisfaction as any try, Ireland going on that year to win only their second-ever Grand Slam.
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It was only fitting that this astonishing Dubliner – who strangely never won the World Rugby Player of the Year award – bowed out internationally with a victory lap of honour in Paris as Ireland won the Six Nations.