News Off the Ball

Sunday 21 September 2014

We may rue lost chance to plan for World Cup by blooding new No 13

Donny Mahoney

Published 05/03/2014 | 02:30

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22 February 2014; Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland, leaves the pitch after defeat by England. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, England v Ireland. Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Who can fill Brian O'Driscoll's shoes?

The retirement of Brian O'Driscoll feels a lot like death these days – you know it's going to happen eventually, but by avoiding the thought, it seems possible to postpone its inevitability. If only it were so.

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O'Driscoll faced the rugby press pack on Monday ahead of his Aviva swansong. He was articulate and insightful as ever, especially when asked about the merits of the candidates for his No 13 shirt. Such is the good will he's earned, and his ability as a salesman, that you'd listen to him big up the likes of Cave, Henshaw, McFadden and Fitzgerald and take the irish legend at his word – that we won't even notice his departure.

I don't know what will happen to Ireland once O'Driscoll walks away from rugby, but I do know this – Ireland has a World Cup to play across the Irish Sea in 18 months.

At the moment, I have no idea who'll be Joe Schmidt's first choice at outside-centre when we play Canada in the Millennium Stadium in September next year. These last two months have given us another opportunity to worship and celebrate BOD and and this has left us with less time for thinking about who'll fill his boots.

Schmidt will have two tests in Argentina, the autumn internationals and next year's Six Nations to establish an alternative and, while it's impressive to witness the sudden depth Ireland possess in most positions, there is a worrying callowness in one pivotal place.

Contrast that with England, who've used the last two Six Nations as a sort of testing lab for raw young talent. The likes of Johnny May may not make the cut, but that seems beside the point. England are favourites to win this Six Nations, but even if they don't, Stuart Lancaster's hand has been strengthened and England suddenly seem like viable World Cup challengers.

On Monday nights show, Eddie O'Sullivan, the man who made O'Driscoll Ireland captain, called him the greatest rugby player of all time. The man deserves a ticker tape parade through Dublin, a bridge named after him and a statue outside the Aviva. But I wonder will we come to rue not using this Six Nations as space to begin to plan for life without BOD.

Irish Independent

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