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Sunday 17 December 2017

O'Driscoll pays his respects to Croke Park and departing coach Cheika

Hugh Farrelly

THERE was a double farewell for Brian O'Driscoll yesterday as Ireland's captain paid tribute to Croke Park ahead of this evening's final rugby international against Scotland and offered his best wishes to the departing Leinster coach, Michael Cheika, who has completed a deal for a three-year move to French powerhouses Stade Francais.

O'Driscoll has played under Cheika since he took over as Leinster coach in 2005 and has had a major role in the Australian's bid to guide the province to back-to-back Heineken Cups in his last few months at the helm.

Touted as a future Wallabies coach, it was expected that Cheika would return Down Under but then Stade swooped to sign him as director of rugby in place of Jacque Delmas.

"I wish him the best in his new move -- provided we never get them in Europe, of course," said O'Driscoll yesterday.

"He's got a great work ethic and a great passion for the game and has done wonders for Leinster as a province, giving us a great structure and hopefully we can improve on that. I wish him the best and I'm sure a new life in Paris will suit him down to the ground."

The move creates the possibility of Cheika moving to sign some of Leinster's star players such as O'Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald.

Heaslip has expressed his desire to play in France or Super rugby at some stage in his career and yesterday Melbourne Rebels coach Rod Macqueen confirmed that they are "making enquiries" about the Ireland No 8.

However, it is extremely unlikely that Heaslip or any of Leinster's Ireland contingent will move before next year's World Cup, although Cheika might also be interested in some of the province's second-tier players such as Fergus McFadden or Andrew Conway.

Ireland go into this evening's international as warm favourites to defeat Scotland and land their fifth Triple Crown in seven seasons. Gordon D'Arcy, an injury doubt earlier in the week after bruising his left knee in the win over Wales last weekend, was given the all-clear yesterday and will line up alongside O'Driscoll in midfield.

The Ireland captain wants to mark the passing of rugby's three-year relationship with GAA headquarters in fitting style before the switch to the redeveloped Lansdowne Road later this year.

"There's no point contemplating defeat, Scotland are an obstacle in our way to winning some silverware," said O'Driscoll.

"We've had some great days here, some not so memorable but for the most part we have some fantastic memories and we'll be sorry to say goodbye."

Irish Independent

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