Brian O'Driscoll takes a time-out to give body a rest
Knowing when to push his body and when to rest is crucial
Published 09/11/2013 | 01:00
AS the rest of the Ireland squad broke from the team photo and headed for the captain's run, Brian O'Driscoll made his way to the sideline, put his watch back on and zipped up his jacket to keep from the cold.
It is a place that he will have to get used to in 12 months' time when he retires from rugby, but for the time being it is a refuge to allow him to get to the end of his final season in as good a shape as possible.
So far, the lap of honour has had a fitful start, at best.
The Leinster fans who encouraged him to stick around with their cries of 'One more year!' last April have been limited to 73 minutes of O'Driscoll action, in the win over Cardiff Blues in September.
Since then, his calf has played up to the extent that he missed both of the province's Heineken Cup clashes and the derbies with Connacht and Munster.
He returned to training with Ireland last week and according to all of the emissaries sent out to speak to the media, he has been flying.
But there comes a time when he must rest his wings and he took the decision yesterday to step out of the captain's run.
The sight of him in a jacket sent the cameras a flutter and the speculation into overdrive, but Les Kiss insisted that he would be available.
"There's no smoke and mirrors behind this. He just felt it was right to sit out that run. He's done his detail," the assistant coach said.
"Brian has played 120-odd Tests and he knows his body. He gives us the feedback and Jason (Cowman), our strength and conditioning guy, and the medics are always keeping an eye on him and the GPS data, and he keeps an eye on how he feels.
"Those decisions are reached through logic and how he feels about himself. He knows when he's right and when he can run.
"We just tried a different combination for the captain's run and we've a good team of people around us who help us make those decisions."
That combination appeared to be Fergus McFadden slipping into the outside-centre slot, with Dave Kearney coming on to the wing, and it would be no surprise to see that switch implemented at the hour mark this evening.
After all, the Ireland management know that asking a 34-year-old with less than one game under his belt to go toe to toe with Samoa, Australia and New Zealand in successive weeks is a big ask.
Assuming he won't be on the summer tour to Argentina, there are eight internationals left for O'Driscoll to complete before heading into the sunset, beginning this evening under lights at the Aviva Stadium.
By the time he finishes up, he will be 35 and around the 140 international mark. While some of his ability has diminished with age, Kiss believes that he remains one of the game's best outside-centres.
"I think Brian has to be still considered one of the best 13s in the world, without a doubt. Certainly there are some guns around the place like Conrad Smith who's been really consistent lately, but I don't think Brian falls off the edge in any area," he said.
"His commitment to everything in terms of preparation and his game... when you saw him come on for his first game this year was sublime.
"His skill-set is still there and his appetite is still there. I don't think you could dispute that statement, no.
"Over time, when you carry a few more injuries, they always have a part to play, but the true champions and the true warriors survive.
"They find other elements of their make-up to improve on, adjust and adapt. He is still one of the most physical No 13s in the tackle. He is still a handful in that area, he is like another No 7 in the backline.
"That appetite has never waned – the way he weaves his running lines and makes space and the deft off-loads for others has improved even more over the last five years. He has honed it to keep him on the top of his game."