D'Arcy happy to step into O'Driscoll's No 13 jersey
To Gordon D’Arcy, at this time of his life, age is merely a number over which he has little, or no control.
In his mind, so too is the number that is printed upon the back of his jersey.
As he seizes upon every single moment left available in his wonderful but slowly dwindling career of fewer days, Joe Schmidt and Matt O’Connor have opened a channel of communication with the player that seems, even at this stage, to mark him down as one of Irish rugby’s most important players in this pre-World Cup season.
“It’s a number at this stage,” D’Arcy (34) relates blithely. “Matt summed up by saying I’ll play where I’m told. I’m just happy to be playing anywhere on the pitch.”
Now beardless again, D’Arcy, so long Brian O’Driscoll’s faithful midfield partner, has never needed to conceal anything; he knows he has less time left in his career and fretting about the prospect of life after Brian.
His message is an acute one: if one concedes that O’Driscoll is obviously irreplaceable, surely the debate about a replacement should be re-shaped. It is not about who replaces him but how he is replaced.
D’Arcy’s attraction is that he can avoid the mental baggage that may affect others; presumably, Schmidt and O’Connor’s chats with him have been conducted in the same spirit. “I’ve had chats with Joe and Matt and I have a pretty fair idea what they want from me,” says D’Arcy, whose belated introduction to the season last Friday, in Leinster’s fourth outing, saw him score from the outside channel. The wider canvas suits his mindset now, you feel.
He is prompted with he thought that it is a decade since he dominated the Six Nations when O’Driscoll missed Ireland’s spring campaign. D’Arcy has little time for excessive thinking these days. It’s all about being.
“It’s not something I think too much about. I’ve turned myself into, I hope, a reasonably good 12. But even back then, it was always about what was best for the team. And wherever that is, whatever cog I fit into, I’ll do that.
“I have a great relationship with the two coaches. They talk to me quite regularly, tell me what to do and how to do it and I try my best to do it, whatever the position.
“I don’t know whether I’ll move. Joe has told me what he expects from a centre. He has thoughts for me, or then again, maybe not!
“We’ll see when the teams are picked. But whether it’s at 12 or 13 doesn’t bother me. It’s pretty easy to switch between them and I’m happy enough doing either.”
D’Arcy scored his 60th Leinster try against Cardiff but he hasn’t set his sights on becoming a try-scoring machine like his erstwhile team-mate.
“I don’t think anyone would expect me to score more tries,” he smiles sheepishly. “I’ll be happy enough with my one try a season.”
Richie Murphy is now his coach at national as well as provincial level and appreciates the suggestion that, internally at least, the focus must switch away from a player who is no longer around.
“No matter who goes in there, they’re always going to be compared to Brian and that’s a lose-lose situation for any of those individuals,” agrees Murphy.
“From our point of view, we’re looking at guys here and seeing who can do the job for us. It is not to do the job that Brian did.
“It is to fill the No 13 jersey and provide us with aspects of their game that will influence play and help Leinster to be a better side.
“No one is going to replace Brian O’Driscoll. Anyone who is trying to do that would probably be wrong.”
D’Arcy’s Zen-like calm, indeed, could act as a mentoring influence for whoever his partner may be, whatever the jersey number; none, it is true, can gainsay the experience in the game of a player who was yesterday able to recall interpros from the 1990s.
“He’s a good influence in the environment,” adds Murphy. “Obviously, he’s got loads of experience.
“Even with the younger 12s there, the likes of Ian Madigan, Noel Reid and Tom Daley, Gordon will have good chats with those guys and steer them in the right direction.
“Whether he’s playing at 12 or 13, as he says himself, he’s not that worried. He’s happy to be out there playing. What he has proved in the two games he has had so far this year, is that he’s is still well capable of playing at that level and higher.
“He had a fine game at the weekend. His leadership with the younger guys around him is fantastic. He could easily play 12 or 13 for Leinster and for Ireland this year.
“We’ve obviously played him at 13 with Ian inside him. The balance is reasonably good there.
“I’m not sure where he’ll actually end up when it comes to the big games. And without the beard he looks 10 years younger!”
Here, D’Arcy demurs but only just.
“I feel pretty good. The guys here realise I can’t do the same things I did when I was 24 or 25. Mentally I’m in a brilliant place. I’ve a brilliant relationship with the two coaches I have. They’ve been very honest with me.
“I know I won’t be playing for another five years. So you can enjoy the immediate future a lot more and that can give you a little boost in every game.”
D’Arcy, you feel, is a man utterly in control.