Tuesday 21 November 2017

We wouldn't have won it without him, says Irish boss

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and Jonathan Sexton following their victory
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and Jonathan Sexton following their victory
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt believes Ireland would not have won the Six Nations had Brian O'Driscoll retired as planned at the end of last season.

The New Zealander helped convince the world's most capped player to stay on for one more year and he has been rewarded in spades by the former skipper who signed off with a second title on Saturday.

The coach now faces the difficult job of replacing an icon as he begins to plot towards next year's World Cup and title defence with the summer tour to Argentina.

But he paid tribute to the retiring centre as he bade farewell to international rugby.

"One of the frustrations for me has been the doomsday guys who wrote him off and said he shouldn't be there," Schmidt said.

"I don't think we would have won the championship without him. He is a super example to other players, he helps keep the group as tight as they are.

"He's a massive leader in the group and what he demonstrated last weekend was the class that he's got and what he demonstrated tonight with some of the tackles he put in is the absolute courage he has.

"That's one of the reasons he's one of the most respected players in the world. He remains humble and he has helped immeasurably with the two young centres who have been in and out of camp – Darren Cave and Robbie Henshaw.

"So, he has been fantastic for us this season; both in November and currently. I'll be sad to see him go, but what a way to go."

O'Driscoll still has the rest of Leinster's season to see out before he finally hangs up his boots for good.

But there was some worrying news for the province as Jack McGrath suffered a collarbone injury in the closing stages of Saturday's win that looks likely to rule him out of the forthcoming meetings with Munster and Toulon.

Jonathan Sexton, meanwhile, suffered a concussion in the collision that forced him off during the second half, but, despite needing a neck brace, he was able to take part fully in the post-match celebrations.

However, he faces a couple of weeks on the sidelines for Racing Metro as he goes through the return-to-play protocols.

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