Thursday 18 January 2018

Tony Ward: O'Driscoll's form and status make him only choice to lead Lions

There were the hair care years – with which I had absolutely no problem – but that apart I cannot think of one other way in which Brian O'Driscoll has stepped out of line, so to speak, in an exemplary career. He has been the consummate performer, not only on the field but off it too.

I wish he had been left to see out his days, most probably this season, as captain. The decision to pass on the armband hurt more than those beyond his immediate family and closest friends will know.

Of course, how could anyone assume anything different, given the graciousness and support he has since offered in word and deed to his successor, Jamie Heaslip?

I supported the move, in O'Driscoll's interest. I was wrong and I suspect, despite public utterings to the contrary, if Declan Kidney could turn back the clock he might have handled it differently.

But where to now for this iconic Irish sporting ambassador, who is right up there with Ronnie Delany, Eamonn Coghlan, Sonia O'Sullivan, Henry Shefflin and Katie Taylor as a role model.

My earnest wish is to see this living legend bow out on his terms. If that means Saturday's draw with France was his last at Lansdowne Road in an Ireland shirt, then what a way to go ... bloodied but unbowed.

I want him to do what's right for him and his family. I suspect that for Brian and his wife Amy, the birth of daughter Sadie will have changed their longer-term perspective entirely.

Nothing compares to parenthood and, particularly, the arrival of the first born leads to a reassessment in life. Suddenly your personal welfare, about which you had given little thought in the past – and by God that applies to O'Driscoll – becomes critical to your thinking.

Judging by the pictures of a tearful Amy and thoughtful mother (Geraldine) alongside an emotional O'Driscoll in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's game, it's reasonable to assume that some longer-term decisions have already been made.

In the meantime, with just one series of games to go, selection for the Lions squad to tour Australia is looming. Right from the off, O'Driscoll has contended that form in the Six Nations alone should dictate whether he travels.

Well, if his name isn't already set in stone on that criterion, I give up.

The 2005 captain has unfinished business and deserves the chance to lead a Lions tour to series success and add the crowning glory to a great career.

In a strange sort of way, losing the Irish captaincy has enhanced his case for Lions leadership now. It would not be a sentimental appointment, but a very pragmatic decision were Lions coach Warren Gatland to go that route.

As things stand, it looks like one from O'Driscoll, Chris Robshaw and Sam Warburton, with much set to be made of the head-to-head between these two openside flankers in Cardiff on Saturday.

I hope it will not be a case of the winner between Robshaw and Warburton taking all.

O'Driscoll is the man to lead the 2013 Lions, not because he is at the end of a great career but because he is the right man – not least because he is the closest of the three obvious candidates to a Test-place certainty.

Were the Irish icon to be given that honour I doubt there would be a dissenting voice anywhere.

His form, his status, his stage in life dictate that for Gatland the time is right to give BOD the nod. He would have the unequivocal support of players, media and travelling fans alike.

For Gatland and team manager Andy Irvine, having the public and media on-side from the time of the captaincy announcement would represent a pretty good springboard.

The absence of the responsibility of the armband throughout the Six Nations should have re-energised the Ireland centre for the captaincy.

I am not wearing green-tinted glasses when I suggest that this captaincy decision is a no-brainer.

If the 2013 Lions want the best man available leading the four-country charge then everything points to one very special player.

There are so many reasons why and I cannot think of a single reason why not. It's over to you Gatty.

Meanwhile, operation recuperation is under way for Kidney and Ireland ahead of what is now a daunting task in Rome.

But whatever criticisms might be levelled at this group, no one can claim that they lack courage in adversity.

DROPPED

They butchered chances in Murrayfield, they dropped ball incessantly against England and got caught out in the final quarter against the French, but never have heads dropped.

It's easy to be dismissive of that fact but, given the demoralising injury list, they have battled manfully throughout this Six Nations – despite recording just one win in four games.

To put it in perspective, to the left is my team comprising 10 injured players and five out of favour.

I suggest it might give a fair account of itself against almost any other in the competition, even if it looks a little lightweight at prop. Tommy Bowe, Jonny Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Stephen Ferris would all be nailed-on Lions, with Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy very much in the mix.

But for now it's all about getting a starting XV on the paddock for a game fraught with danger. Sexton is ready to resume, although I sincerely hope that there is no risk whatsoever involved.

Against that, Eoin Reddan and Fergus McFadden, two who encapsulate the aforementioned courage, are out, while Donnacha Ryan (outstanding against the French) looks extremely doubtful given his shoulder injury.

Both centres are dazed with concussion, although Gilroy has recovered from his groin problem.

That would make for a patched-up side along the lines of that shown.

Irish Independent

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