Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

RBS 6 Nations: Brian O'Driscoll gets final wish

Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll in the dressing room after the game

And so it is over. Brian O'Driscoll – world rugby's most capped and Ireland's best-ever player – played his final international Test on Saturday night in Paris and finished as a Six Nations champion for only the second time in his stellar 15-year career.

He was still wearing his green number 13 match shirt when he spoke to the media for the last time as an Ireland player. Any future interviews will be with 'the former Ireland centre'.

It will take time for those of us who write and broadcast for a living to adjust to this new reality. It will take time for O'Driscoll to adapt as well.

On Saturday night in the innards of the towering Stade de France, he spoke from the heart. When asked what he felt in the wake of Ireland having just beaten the French in Paris for only the second time since 1972 and clinching the title as a result his reply was: "Just sheer delight.

"I played on for one more year and was hopeful to get a victory against the All Blacks but it didn't happen. And to win a Six Nations and that did happen.

"You can't have it all, but you take the bits that you get. It has been a fantastic Six Nations for us and I have enjoyed every second of it.

"Whatever it is – 44 minutes, an hour after the game – and I don't want to take this jersey off yet because I know when I take it off that will be the last time. It would be weird if I put it on at home and started walking around in it so I'm dragging the ass out of it a little bit," he confessed.

Having sprung to world prominence in the French capital 14 years ago when, as a 21-year-old, he scored a hat-trick of tries, departing the world stage as a Paris winner and European champion was the perfect exit.

"Obviously I have lots of good memories in between, but to have had 2000 and our first victory there in 28 years and not have won since, then to finish up there 14 years later is incredibly special," he agreed.

"Not many people get to finish their career on their own terms and certainly not with high emotions like there have been today. I feel very fortunate and thankful that I am part of a great, great team that has the potential to go on and do more special things."

It is an open secret that, but for the appointment of Joe Schmidt as Ireland's head coach, O'Driscoll was for quitting 12 months ago.

Magnifying the change the New Zealander has made and the standard he demands, O'Driscoll said: "We know what way we want to play the game and I think there is big accountability.

"That was far from a perfect performance when the guys review it and thankfully I won't be part of that. They will look back on it and try to improve the things that went wrong.

"We are always a work in progress and I think he (Schmidt) has instilled a big confidence in those around him with his philosophy, game-plan strategy and detail. People buy into that product."

And with an eye to a future of which he will not be part, he added: "Coupled with the natural ability of the guys playing today, I think that's a good formula."

Asked how he had handled the emotion of the occasion, O'Driscoll said: "I think I try to channel the emotions into the performance. I played fair today.

"You can't allow the occasion to get the better of you. You have to make sure you are able to be a cog in a wheel for the team and that is what I tried to do.

"Emotions come afterwards – and they did," he revealed. "There were some great emotions in the dressing-room and I am sure there will be tears later when there are multiple beers on board probably.

"It's a lovely way to finish out in a jersey I have had so much fun in over the last 15 years. I feel very grateful to be able to finish on such a high."

When the question as to whether he had shed a tear during an earlier broadcast interview was raised, O'Driscoll told the written press corps: "I don't know if there were tears rolling down my face, but there was a frog in my throat alright.

"You're not yourself sometimes when you're being interviewed. It feels like you're trying to present a certain way and after scenarios like today it comes out a bit more and you are yourself, particularly when it is the end.

"You just have to be as natural as you can be. There was some emotion and I'm sure over the next while when it sinks in there will be more.

"I know when I pull off this jersey in a few minutes time – and I actually do have a shower because I know I have to shower tonight - then it will be hard.

"But it will come with a great sense of happiness that I have finished on a great high after a lot of nearly."

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