O'Driscoll shifts blame for defeat from Jackson and Kidney to players generally
With the opinion givers as adept at crushing careers as inflating them, Paddy Jackson’s seems to be in need of some mending. That some missed penalties were deemed more egregious than a runner going inside instead of passing outside, a fumbled ball or a knock on with the line begging is to miss the point that any scored points against Scotland would have shifted the momentum.
Brian O’Driscoll, however, would rather focus on an otherwise nuanced performance from the 21-year-old outhalf debutant.
And in that context O’Driscoll also lays the blame for the defeat against the Scots at the feet of the team, not coach Declan Kidney.
In the shifting sands of Test rugby, the players are expected to know instinctively what to do. Last weekend that was often lacking, although it was Jackson who met with enough withering comments to scorch the Murrayfield grass.
In O’Driscoll’s mind the callow outhalf has a long career ahead. With the freight the former captain carries, Jackson has found a heavyweight ally.
“Take Paddy’s kicking from ground away from his performance at the weekend and he was very good,” said O’Driscoll. “He was really good. He threatened. He brought the ball to the line. His passing was really crisp.
“He kicked really well from touch, even on penalties, and he was a bit like Dan Parks, where he got every last yard.
“I though Paddy played a very, very nice game, albeit he didn’t kick his goals the way Irish 10s are expected to.
“There was a lot of pressure put on him because he hadn’t really been kicking for Ulster this year. But I’d imagine Paddy will get a lot of caps and he’ll grow from that. He’ll learn from that.
“I don’t have great worries about Paddy because I really like him as a player. I think he’s a lovely footballer, and good footballers tend to stay the course.”
If it’s not an apparent contradiction, Jackson is also in the corner where O’Driscoll lays the entire blame for the defeat: the players.
In the world of the outside centre, the staff and Kidney can only take the horses to water but they can’t make them drink.
There is an understanding, an acceptance that the blame for international players butchering try-scoring chances does not fall at the door of the coach.
“I would say the game at the weekend is 100 per cent player responsibility,” he says as though it was blindingly obvious.
“We can’t have our hands held through games. There is only so much coaches can do; they can put you in a position; they can educate you as to where they feel opportunities are going to arise, and then train you for that and put you out on the pitch.
“Beyond what they say at half-time or the couple of messages they pass on, the ball is in our court and we are responsible for what happens.
“Clearly in that first half with the amount of line-breaks we made and the things we did, the information we got was pretty good. Can we point fingers back at the coaching staff? Absolutely not. That’s on us.”
Regarding Kidney’s contract, the road is less certain, with the former captain unwilling to step too far on to terrain where he doesn’t belong.
“We haven’t collectively gotten together and said what we do and do not want,” he says. “The IRFU will make the decision. That’s their role; it’s not the player’s role to do that.
“We know that Declan is certainly contracted until the summer tour and all the management that are there are going to be involved for the next two games at the very least, so let’s go about trying to win both of them.
“Beyond that it’s not in my control. It’s about trying to stop a little bit of this two-game rot and get back to consistency of performance.
“I don’t have to answer that, because I don’t have a say in it. It doesn’t matter what my opinion is one way or the other.”
He may be in a minority of one in believing his opinion is unimportant but he also knows he may not be around next season, that decision resting with him alone.
“I had a couple of barren years back in the early 2000s; it wasn’t beautiful but it didn’t lessen my desire for the game any,” he says in the way of explaining why the fire still burns.
What he doesn’t deny is the natural change of emphasis in his life, which makes defeat more bearable, or less enduring.
He knows family life and professional rugby are not mutually exclusive concepts and that it is his body that will make the final call, not a change of lifestyle. Given how often it has been broken and rebuilt and broken, it was always going to be thus.
“The defeat at the weekend, it was very painful,” he says in full control. “But when you go home to your wife and your daughter, you’re able to shelve that part of your life, be happy in your own world. It’s 100 per cent a positive – that side of things.
“I didn’t go into that game thinking I need to be careful because I have someone to look after,” he adds shaking his head.
“That side of your game doesn’t change.”
Life of Brian: Thoughts on . . .
“I don’t know if I’d be able to play a provincial season without playing nationally. I’d find it hard still playing rugby and knowing that the lads were sitting in a hotel to play a game the next day. I’d find that tough. I’m not lying to you. I haven’t got this great secret hiding in my head.”
“I was asked earlier if it was one of the most embarrassing defeats, absolutely not. One of the most frustrating? Sure. One of the most shocking? Probably. But embarrassing, no. I’ve played in games where we created nothing and were beaten out the gate.”
“That’s been our downfall – the consistency of our performances has not been there. For us to be taken seriously as a quality Test team, we have to be consistent every time we pull on the jersey. We haven’t done that in a number of years. That is a great disappointment since ’09.”
“I think some of the criticism . . . is pretty harsh. I think Jamie is doing a good job. No-one cracks it in the first three or four games as captain. You constantly get better the more you do it and I have absolutely no concerns about him.”
“I have been approached by the union. They have said they want to talk and discuss things. But we just said listen we’ll focus on the now, on the Six Nations and we’ll be able to come back and have a discussion.”
“For a long time rugby was the be all and end all. And it absolutely isn’t that way now. There is a huge priority swing with my daughter coming. I’ve seen it in other guys in the past and I’m sure there’ll be other guys in the future.”