O'Driscoll determined to leave on his terms
March 9, 2013
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll could have played his last game for Ireland on home soil © PA Photos
Brian O'Driscoll may have refused to confirm that this Six Nations will be his last but a typically warrior-like performance, a refusal to bow to pain and an overwhelming show of emotion hinted that the great man is unlikely to grace the international stage in Dublin again.
One of many bone-crunching tackles floored the veteran centre in the closing moments of the game and after a prolonged assessment, O'Driscoll reluctantly left the field, supported by Irish medics and a grateful nation, the crowd rose to its feet and his wife Amy Huberman, clutching their recently-born daughter Sadie, appeared to fight back the tears as she looked on from the stands. She wasn't the only one desperate for it not to end this way - arguably Irish rugby's greatest ever player deserved to finish what many believe will be his last international appearance on home soil on the pitch.
Given O'Driscoll's Lazarus-like qualities, it was no surprise to see him re-enter the fray, in discomfort from what we were told was a dead-leg and a cut ear although shots of O'Driscoll staggering around and frantically filling his lungs in an attempt to clear his head suggested something a little more serious. His determination to return to the thick of the action should not be surprising. O'Driscoll has spent the last decade or so thrilling crowds around the world but also putting his country's needs ahead of his own wellbeing - and how his side needed him on this occasion.
Last month Ireland struggled in similarly wet and windy conditions but adapted much better this time around with a simple but effective kicking game frustrating a France side short of ideas. Scrum-half Conor Murray dictated proceedings and fly-half Paddy Jackson looked assured while a resurgent Jamie Heaslip provided much of the grunt from No.8 in a performance that will go a long way to silencing his critics. But for the third successive match Ireland let victory slowly slip from their grasp having held a relatively comfortable 10-point lead at the break. They failed to trouble the scoreboard after the re-start and come the closing stages they were running out of steam. Bodies littered the field as France continued to hammer away in the hope of notching an unlikely victory but they would be denied.
Ireland could have snatched the victory and perhaps should have at least been given a chance to win the game in the dying moments. France replacement Vincent Debaty appeared to check the run of Ireland wing Keith Earls as he closed in on a kick through that was eventually touched down in-goal by the visitors' Louis Picamoles. Referee Steve Walsh, whose handling of the game in quite testing circumstances deserves praise, chose not to award a penalty or a penalty try having consulted with the Television Match Official - although input on foul play is not allowed in the Six Nations, unlike the Super Rugby competition where Walsh is a regular.
France may have ended a three-game losing streak with this brutally compelling draw but they are sadly mistaken if they think they have stopped the rot. If they were not playing in their famous blue jerseys then you would never have believed that this was France. Staring at what would be their first wooden spoon since 1999, first win-less campaign since 1969 and a first whitewash since 1957, they raised their game - but not by much. Errors continued to plague their best efforts and while an absence of flair was understandable on a wet and windy day in Dublin, too many of their supposedly talent-laden players lacked the energy and the urgency the occasion demanded - yet somehow they escaped with a share of the spoils.
Fly-half Frederic Michalak remains a cause for concern - unless, it appears, you are coach Philippe Saint-Andre whose faith in his first-choice playmaker shows no sign of waning but another high-profile failure to deliver is sure to increase the pressure on both. Luckily in captain Thierry Dusautoir and Picamoles France had two warriors of their own who were unfazed by the atrocious playing conditions and determined to inspire a turnaround in their side's recent fortunes while scrum-half Morgan Parra exuded confidence and class at every opportunity.
As with Kidney, this result is unlikely to do much to improve Saint-Andre's long-term prospects with his side still languishing in terms of standard of performance. They have one final chance to lift themselves off the foot of the table and avoid the ignominy of a last-place finish against Scotland in Paris next weekend but such is the depth of France's current slump it will now take more than one win to convince even die-hard fans that they have rediscovered both their bite and appetite.
O'Driscoll is clearly not short of either and that unrivalled hunger for the game should ensure a final Six Nations hurrah in Rome next weekend and another tour with the British & Irish Lions later this year - but unfortunately for the Irish faithful that could be the last time they see him in the emerald green.
France's Louis Picamoles secures the ball as Ireland's Keith Earls is bundled into touch © PA Photos
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
"Some people have it from day one and Brian did." Tom Hamilton talks to the two players who made their Ireland debuts alongside Brian O'Driscoll back in June 1999
Despite having lost all four of their 2014 Six Nations games, the future of Italian rugby is bright with the team showing a new youthful core, argues Enrico Borra
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column