Monday 20 November 2017

O'Driscoll doubters daft to dismiss decade's top dog

Sean Diffley

Among the great romantic myths in Wales is the one about the mysterious factory deep in the Valleys that has produced a remarkable stream of famous rugby out-halves -- the Celts are great ones for legends.

We have one just as fanciful, the one about Fionn MacCumhaill throwing part of the Giant's Causeway into the Irish Sea and thus creating the Isle of Man.

That mysterious factory in the Welsh Valleys has produced, they tell us, Cliff Morgan, Barry John and Phil Bennett, to name just a few. The latest in the No 10 jersey, James Hook, carries on the tradition in Cardiff today.

In Wales they still fiercely debate as to who was their greatest out-half. Most have forgotten Morgan, who played his first Test in 1951, and, of course, all the Welsh spectators in the Arms Park that day, will also have conveniently 'forgotten' that Jack Kyle, winning his 21st cap, rounded half the Welsh team, including the 21-year-old Morgan, to score one of his most famous tries.

Morgan and Kyle became good friends and the Welshman -- who now lives on the Isle of Wight -- has always maintained that Kyle was the best out-half ever.

Morgan ruled the roost in Wales from 1951 to '58, so it's understandable that the spirited debates as to respective merits tend to be confined to John (1966-72) and Bennett (1969-78), the later comers on the scene.

What both John and Bennett enjoyed was the presence of their half-back partner Gareth Edwards, the best scrum-half in the history of the game, a status he maintains even in comparison with the highly paid professionals of today.

In 29 internationals, Bennett scored 166 points, which was a Welsh record. But the vast expansion in professional Tests means that Bennett's total is only at eighth place in the Welsh list.

The holder of that distinction now is Neil Jenkins who recorded 1,049 points in 87 appearances for Wales.

Bennett once scored 38 points in one season, a record he shared with Tony Ward, Roger Hosen and Steve Fenwick. But in 1982 that record was beaten by Ollie Campbell with his famous 46 points.

And how about the recent spate of suggestions that Brian O'Driscoll is only a pale shadow of the great centre he was? I am very far from agreeing with that.

Certain pundits, viewing from afar, may be dismissing O'Driscoll, but I think that the glut of opposing players who make it very clear they don't share those negative opinions is significant.

O'Driscoll has captained Ireland on 30 occasions, had no draws and just nine defeats -- and those figures are unique as far as Ireland is concerned. He must be doing something right.

No, a rash dismissal of the decade's greatest player would be unsound. Goodness knows, we haven't all that much to be proud of in this small island of ours.

Irish Independent

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