Painful truths about rugby culture
Opinion: Brian O’Driscoll’s comments raise disturbing questions
‘ “Getting hurt? You recover from it. And the pain does subside and I don’t know, in a really perverted way, legally inflicting pain on someone else gives you a thrill,” Brian O’Driscoll said jokingly, according to Gerry Thornley.’ Above, O’Driscoll is applauded by his team mates at the Six Nations game against Italy at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
One of the most memorable moments or sequence of moments in sport or perhaps in national life in the last while was the effusion of affection, respect, admiration and gratitude that flowed on Brian O’Driscoll last Saturday week in Lansdowne Road, towards the end of the match against Italy – and after it. As he came off the pitch there was an emotional standing ovation lasting several minutes, when his image appeared on the big screens in the stadium, there was more, and yet more again after the end of the game.
All so deserved because of the joy he gave to so many of us for 14 years now, because of that modesty, mingled with such brilliance, bravery and commitment. How he handled the adulation was almost as touching: again that modesty, gratitude for the warmth of the support; and an absence of ego or self-regard.
Because the match against France last Saturday, even through there was such jubilation over the victory and the wining of the Six Nations Championship in Paris, it seemed flat in comparison with what had happened the Saturday before.
Such a pity he plays for Leinster.
But I want to reflect on something he said in an interview with Gerry Thornley, published in this newspaper on March 1st.
He was speaking about how, over the years, his body had become less timid had he had come to the realisation that there was nothing really to fear on a rugby pitch. “Getting hurt? You recover from it. And the pain does subside and I don’t know, in a really perverted way, legally inflicting pain on someone else gives you a thrill,” he said jokingly, according to Gerry Thornley. Then in reference to the Welsh centre who creased him in the match against Wales a few weeks previously and who seemed to have caused him a serious injury – he remained on the ground for a few minutes, while administered to by the medical staff – he said: “Scott Williams must have taken huge satisfaction in absolutely annihilating me in that tackle”.
In saying this, Brian O’Driscoll was doing no more than expressing some of the culture of rugby: legally inflicting pain on an opposing player, annihilating them in a tackle. Violence was no part of Brian O’Driscoll’s armour as one of the world’s greatest rugby players. Indeed he was invariably the recipient of violence – many of us remember vividly the spear tackle on him in the opening minutes of the first test of the Lions versus New Zealand in 2005, which broke his collar bone and ended his tour. But, unavoidably, he has imbued the culture of rugby, even to the extent of admiring harm done to himself.