Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Tyrone Howe: O'Driscoll perfection keeps him one step ahead of rest

As good as Simon Zebo's flick off his boot was last Saturday, it was not the highlight of the game.

That came from talisman Brian O'Driscoll through his movement, spatial awareness and skill which led to Ireland's first try. It was as good as it gets.

The creation came from his team-mates – O'Brien getting across the gainline, Sexton's zippy flat pass and Kearney's dummy run. The last bit fixed and caught Jonathan Davies flat-footed for a split second.

BOD read the body language, stepped on the gas, took advantage of poor defending by Alex Cuthbert, who found himself back-pedalling in no-man's land, and delivered the sucker punch by floating the most majestic of passes into Zebo's breadbasket.

For me it was one of those rare moments when you get a glimpse of rugby perfection. For all the young legs, the old head of BOD still works one step ahead of the rest.

While selection must have been tough for Andrew Trimble to take, I could understand the thinking behind Declan Kidney's choice of Craig Gilroy. BOD and D'Arcy can no longer make any clear outside breaks so you need serious gas and strikepower outside. Let them create and you have young guns to finish it off. Above all, the selection was a statement of real strength in depth.

When Tommy Bowe comes back to fitness it will make selection even more nightmarish, but what a great problem to have. The defensive lapse by Keith Earls for Wales' opening try provided evidence once again of how important the understanding and intelligence shared by Ireland's starting centres is to Ireland's defensive organisation.

BOD, undoubtedly, brings the best out of Gordon D'Arcy and when they do ultimately retire their defensive qualities may be harder to replace than attacking nous.

I was incredibly disappointed at Chris Henry not making the starting line-up. He was the form forward of all the Irish provinces in the Heineken Cup and you just expect that form is rewarded.

Yet, Peter O'Mahony made his presence felt and certainly did not leave Ireland understrength. It also allowed Sean O'Brien to wreak havoc from the openside.

Can O'Brien have as much impact on a game in the blindside role? Maybe not quite as much but I would still like to see Henry receive an opportunity to show his value from the start.

When you consider the pressure of the occasion and Craig Gilroy's inexperience in that environment I thought he performed exceptionally well.

The Six Nations has a completely different feel compared to the Heineken Cup. You are aware that you are representing a far greater number of people, there is such a sense of occasion and responsibility, and you share that role with a mixed group of individuals rather than your club side.

He recovered plenty of long kick-offs, ran strongly and used his feet to gain precious yards, his defence was superb and he made the right decisions at the right time.

Maybe his defensive kicking could have been better, but in the latter stages of the second half such was the pressure that it must have felt like sheer relief just to get the ball away. Gilroy was assured and looked well worth his place – his stock continues to rise.

Ulster's other starter is quickly nailing down not only a Lions tour but potentially a Test berth.

Rory Best did what Rory Best does best and he is integral to the Ireland pack. Workrate, defence and creating turnovers and penalties – they were all there. But Best always seems to come up with something a little bit extra, something eye-catching.

On this occasion his chargedown, composed reaction and skilful pass to Jamie Heaslip reinforced his reputation further as a top quality international hooker who offers so much more than just being a strong scrummager, lineout exponent and disciplined competitor.

Of course, it was a game of two halves. What is it about the psychology of sport that once in that winning position you slip into defensive mode?

The comment was made – Ireland almost had too big a lead. Surely, in professional sport a lead can never be too big?

Maybe it still can, as it seems that the complexity and frailty of human nature leads to an inbuilt reaction to reach a point where defence seems to make more sense than attack.

Nevertheless, however frantic and dramatic that second half was, I imagine that Declan Kidney would happily settle for a similar narrative this weekend.