JOE SCHMIDT says the process of replacing Brian O’Driscoll is already underway and added that the legendary centre has played his part in helping with his successor.
The 35-year-old bowed out of the international game for the final time at the end of Saturday’s Six Nations winning victory in Paris and the No13 jersey is now up for grabs for the first time in 15 years.
The Ireland coach revealed that O’Driscoll had put in extra time with Connacht youngster Robbie Henshaw and Ulster centre Darren Cave during and after squad training during the tournament.
Luke Fitzgerald and Fergus McFadden will also come into the equation for the summer tour of Argentina, while New Zealand born utility back Jared Payne qualifies for Ireland at the start of next summer.
After helping to convince the Leinster, Ireland and Lions star to stay on for one more year, Schmidt is hopeful he’ll be ready to replace him.
“It started when I got the job,” Schmidt said. “He and I sat down and there were pretty clear parameters how long he would be available.
“We will certainly be watching players and I think both Robbie Henshaw and Darren Cave profited from time they spent.
“One of success stories for us as a group is what those players brought. Robbie with almost whistled in every single week, because we were very much patched together in last game.
“There are some players who are starting to creak, some players didn’t manage to finish training that week, so it did make preparation difficult at times, but at the same time those players knew they would be physically able to play as long as managed the week and, thankfully, that was the case.
“Robbie and Darren are there, guys like Luke Fitzgeralds are there. He came on against the All Blacks and did a pretty good job considering he hadn’t being playing a lot at centre.
“Jared would be another guy in the frame, he’s a class player, an experienced player with a natural intuition in the field. He tends to beat the first player, the first tackle and he is a little bit flexible in where he plays.
“Those sort of guys, we’ll be keeping an eye on.
“So, we’ve been doing it for the last nine months because we already knew day was coming.”
Schmidt would like to keep O’Driscoll close after he retires and hasn’t ruled out a role of some sort for the centre, but he admitted it would be up to the player himself who has said that coaching is not in his immediate plans.
“We’ve tried to bleed him dry over the last six months, sitting down and watching video with Darren and Robbie, so we have tried to bleed as much as can out of him,” Schmidt said.
“We’d be delighted if stayed reasonably close to group, because of character he has, as well as on-field intelligence he has too.
“I guess it depend on (O’Driscoll’s wife and daughter) Amy and Sadie and the commitments he might have beyond the end of the season.
“I know right now, his full focus will be on the end of the season. I guess he will target recuperating for a week, before targeting some massive games for provinces.
“It’s one of challenges we have extended to all of the players. To go back as international players to continue their form through their provinces. We have some fantastic footie coming up.”
Comment & Analysis
So, where to from here? I'll tell you where – back to reality, back to preparing for the next phase of the season for those who battled shoulder to shoulder in Paris when Leinster take on Munster at the Aviva at the end of the month.