Unstoppable Brian O'Driscoll puts his retirement plans on hold
World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward recalled how England believed they needed three men to contain Brian O'Driscoll.
In a brochure produced for O'Driscoll's recent testimonial dinner in London, Woodward wrote that he and England defence coach Phil Larder fixated on how to contain O'Driscoll before the 2003 Grand Slam decider in Dublin.
"Whenever he received the ball, we wanted a player directly in front of him and then a pair either side," reflected that year's World Cup-winning coach. "That's how big a threat we believed he was. We needed three men to handle him."
The fact that a whole decade later, a 34-year-old O'Driscoll should be signing a new professional contract with the IRFU tells us everything about the extraordinary standards he has set himself since making his Test debut in Australia 14 years ago.
O'Driscoll is revered in this country like maybe no rugby player has been before. He is Ireland's most-capped player, our record try-scorer and a three-time Six Nations Player of the Tournament.
Yet, he has come to represent a broader community than simply that of rugby union, his popularity far transcending cold arithmetic.
He will be the oldest member of Warren Gatland's 37-strong Lions squad in Australia, having shown sufficient form in recent Leinster games to trigger chants of "one more year" from the RDS crowd.
It will be O'Driscoll's fourth Lions trip, the second, in 2005, famously cut short when a First Test spear-tackle ended his tour in controversial circumstances.
O'Driscoll had been Woodward's captain in New Zealand that year, the All Blacks unashamedly targeting him as the Lions' danger man.
Those have been the conditions in which he has lived his professional life, forever hunted. Hence a steady accumulation of injuries, the latest of which prevents him from starting tonight's Amlin Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais at the RDS.
It had been thought that marriage to the actress and author Amy Huberman and, particularly, the recent birth of their daughter, Sadie, might soften O'Driscoll's desire to continue putting his body on the line in a profession now characterised by extraordinary physicality.
Yesterday he thanked the IRFU and Leinster for giving him, as he put it, "the time to discuss my options with my family".
But Joe Schmidt's appointment as new Irish coach was, undoubtedly, a factor in supporters getting their wish of "one more year" with Ireland's greatest ever player.
O'Driscoll's new retirement date is June 2014 but, as Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip joked yesterday, "Who is to say he won't go beyond that?"
sport: pages 64-65
Belfast Telegraph Digital