'I wouldn't get carried away' - Brian O'Driscoll on the debate over whether rugby is now Ireland's national sport
Brian O'Driscoll has told Independent.ie that the storming success of Ireland's rugby heroes in 2018 does not mean the sport should now be viewed as our national sport.
Ireland's Grand Slam glory could back up by victory for Leinster if they can secure victory in their Champions Cup final against Racing 92 in Bilbao on Saturday, sparking suggestions that rugby has now become Ireland's most popular sport.
Yet BT Sport pundit O'Driscoll has insisted rugby still faces strong competition from football and hurling, as he insists rugby needs to make the most of its golden era of success.
"On the back of the Six Nations and the fact that we have a team in the Champions Cup final means rugby is topical and can be celebrated at the moment, but I wouldn't be getting carried away with the idea that it is the national sport," O'Driscoll told us.
"Everyone will love football when the All Ireland gets into full swing and come the first weekend in September, we will all be hurling fans again. That is the way sport works.
"If you go to different corners of the country, you will find that rugby isn’t as adored like other sports, but it has certainly gone up the pecking order, even since my days playing. In the last five years, it feels like rugby has gone to another level and it is all credit to the national team and the provincial sides for getting us there."
O'Driscoll believes Ireland have succeeded in developing a winning culture at club and international level and he has now urged Irish rugby to continue to take strides forward to cement its place as the powerhouse of the European game.
"We have batted above our average for a number of years now," he argues. "You look at the size of our country and compare it to the numbers playing rugby in England or France and there is no doubt we are doing very well, with so many people deserving credit for what is happening now.
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"It feels like Ireland has developed a winning culture in rugby at the moment and the talent that has come through our system in recent years is evidence of that. The provincial teams have developed that winning mentality and it has filtered through to the national team, which has been great to see.
"What we cannot do is get carried away with this success and think we are the bees-knees. There is always another place you can take a winning team, modify and grow.
"As soon as you do that, as soon as you think you have cracked it and stand still for a couple of years, everyone passes you by and you wonder how it has slipped away, so we have to guard against them and continue to take strides forward. I believe the people we have in key positions in Irish rugby at the moment are well placed to do that."
O'Driscoll went on to suggest Leinster are firm favourites to beat Racing 92 in Saturday's Champions Cup final, as he suggests coach Leo Cullen has found the perfect balance in his side this season.
"The brand of rugby Leinster are playing is wonderful to watch," he added. "They have excitement at the fore, but they have a perfect mix of aggression as well. They play a wide game, but when needs be they take it through the guts and the variety of their game is wonderful to watch.
"They are not a contrived team. Everything they do has a purpose and they have managed to fuse together a great blend of everything you need to be a winner in this team. They also have some great players, who have the class and experience to make good decisions at the right moment.
"Everything points to a Leinster win by eight to ten points against Racing on Saturday and that would continue a wonderful year for Irish rugby."
BT Sport is the best place to watch rugby from the Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and the Aviva Premiership. Watch Leinster v Racing 92 on Saturday from 4:00pm live on BT Sport 2. For more info visit www.bt.com/sport