Monday 22 January 2018

Ireland can give O'Driscoll the end he deserves

Nation's greatest-ever player can dispatch Italy in his Aviva farewell

Brian O'Driscoll and Denis Leamy share a joke during training in Limerick in 2008
Brian O'Driscoll and Denis Leamy share a joke during training in Limerick in 2008

Denis Leamy

If Brian O'Driscoll had been born in New Zealand I have no doubt he would be regarded as one of the greatest All Blacks in history. That's the standing he has around the world, not just here in Ireland.

And then aside from all that he has done on the pitch, he is just as impressive off it.

I never saw Mike Gibson or Jack Kyle play so I have no idea how good they were, so for me Brian has to be the greatest Irish player. It was a pleasure to play with him.

He is one of those players like Roy Keane who you wish could play forever. We thought the same about Nicky English here in Tipperary – they are so classy that you just never want them to finish up.

Brian will get a huge send-off tomorrow. I know he has been trying to detach himself from it but it is inevitable that Ireland will use the fact that this will be Brian's last home Test match as a huge motivational tool.

Brian is only a couple of years older than me but he was already a global figure by the time I arrived on the Irish scene in 2004.

He has just done so much, scored such unreal tries, made so many others – and then there is his defence. Some of the tackles he has made have just been out of this world. He is not the biggest guy but there is hardly a braver one.

He never thought twice, he just went in there. I remember one a few seasons ago against the South African lock Danie Rossouw, Brian just threw himself in to save a try and he knocked himself and the Springbok out.

Brian has just always had the ability to get that extra inch in tight matches. ROG may have landed the drop goal to win the Grand Slam but Brian stretched over to get the decisive try that day.

Everyone will want to see him go out on a high in his final home match. Getting ready to play Italy can be difficult, as there is always this expectation that Ireland will win.

Yet we shouldn't forget that in the last game between the countries, Italy came out on top a year ago. They deserve respect and they showed in Rome last year what they can do.

However, I just can't see that happening this time in Dublin. The loss to England was disappointing but the championship is still there to be won.


Ireland just need to take care of Italy and then head to Paris with it all up for grabs.

That means there is a lot at stake tomorrow and that, coupled with it being Brian's final home Test, really only points to one outcome and that is a decisive Irish win.

I just can't see where Italy can win the match. They are changing their style and fair play to them for doing that, but they just don't have a No 9 or No 10 to win these sort of games.

They are looking to play a broader game and use space, but I just don't think they have the players yet to execute that.

They always have a good pack and you always knew you were in a game with them. They were always tough – you earned your result against them and you usually came off the field battered.

They have always had a very strong front-row – the connections between them and Argentina have always been easy to identify.

I just think Ireland are playing a step or two above them at the moment. Joe Schmidt will look for a response after the English match and I think he will get it.

The likes of Paul O'Connell will tap into Brian's departure as a motivational tool and it will not be lost on the players that if they win they will be heading to Paris on the final weekend with the title up for grabs.

Preparing for Italy can be difficult because the expectation is all one way but I'm sure the dangers will have been highlighted and I think we will see a very thorough performance and a comfortable win.

I'm sure it will be an emotional day as well but Brian will be adamant it is not about him and while the players may use it for motivation, you can be sure it won't be a distraction either.

It really is a case of going out and delivering a performance and letting the result look after itself.

And if all goes to plan then we should have a big one to look forward to next weekend for the conclusion of this season's Six Nations.

Now that would be the ideal way to send Brian off into retirement!


TMO's influence cost Reds dearly

I'm loath to say that the performance of the officials cost Munster victory in Llanelli but it is really hard to ignore how much influence they had on the outcome, particularly the TMO.

You tend not to go to Wales looking for help but I think any analysis of that loss to Scarlets can't ignore some of the calls made.

I thought Gerhard van den Heever's try should have stood, so it was a disappointing way to end this segment of games.

That said, I don't think Munster will dwell too much on that game. It was frustrating, but this has been a very good spell for Munster and the performance was also good enough to have achieved the win.

Players and management should be happy with where they are and there is now a short break before coming back for the business end of the season.

The key for us will be to work hard and make sure we hit the ground running in a couple of weeks.

The lads will be back from international duty, there will be a big step up in everything, with a string of crunch matches to kick in.

Munster will go into that segment of games with plenty of confidence. They are playing good rugby and the return of the internationals, even if it is fewer than other years, will inject further momentum.

It will be an exciting phase and it is something to look forward to when the Six Nations concludes.

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