O'Driscoll a treat for Irish eyes one last time
March 8, 2014
Old Father Time waits for no man, but Brian O'Driscoll continues to confound defences © Getty Images
At the end of Ireland's anthem, the camera panned to Brian O'Driscoll. He exhaled, looked a little choked by welling emotion and showed a rare moment of vulnerability. He has never been one to seek the limelight and has shunned any notion of sentimentality surrounding his record-breaking 140th Test cap in his final match for Ireland on a patch of grass just seven kilometres from where he was born.
When the ball was hoisted into the air to start the game, it was just another Test for O'Driscoll but one that included three moments of playmaking genius.
Seven minutes into the game and he was in his comfort zone as he acted as the pivot for Jonathan Sexton's try; a delicious one-two passing move put the fly-half over for the opening score of the game.
Just before half-time, O'Driscoll received the ball inside Italy's 22 near the stricken Gordon D'Arcy who lay prone on the turf. He looked left, dummied a pass to Sexton, drew two Italian defenders and popped the ball to Andrew Trimble who darted over.
In the second-half, just two minutes after O'Driscoll lay prone on the floor winded from an outstretched Italian arm, he played a key role in their fourth try as his under-arm pass found one Kearney who passed to the other and Sexton was the man put over. That's Leinstertainment.
These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most. As Conor O'Shea said on Saturday, when he first met O'Driscoll prior to his debut in 1999, he realised the young fresh-faced outside centre "had more skill in his little finger than the whole team put together".
It was a game made for O'Driscoll, both teams played with heads-up rugby and went for it. Italy defended like heroes making 208 tackles and managed to score a lovely try despite having barely seen the ball, but their valiant attempts will not make any headlines tomorrow.
He may be 35, his body may creak more than usual after a game and he may have lost that yard of pace to make the outside break but his rugby brain is as young and lively as it ever was. If Ireland go on to win the Six Nations next weekend, even the most staunch English or Welsh supporter surely would be able to park national pride for one fleeting moment to raise a glass in honour of him.
Everyone has their favourite O'Driscoll moments, some may highlight the hat-trick against Scotland in 2002, the try against Australia for the Lions in 2001 or his role in Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam but the final paragraphs are yet to be written in his story. One way or another, those final etchings will come in Paris next weekend.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland