Brian O’Driscoll to miss Amlin Challenge Cup final but signs on for another year
Coach Joe Schmidt confident 34-year-old’s injury will improve before Ulster’s visit next week
Brian O’Driscoll during the Leinster captain’s run at the RDS yesterday. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Brian O’Driscoll is determined to drag a 15th season out of a body that deserves retirement more than your average athlete after a glorious career littered with bone shuddering collisions.
Perhaps influenced by the ever increasing speculation, O’Driscoll and IRFU yesterday allayed public curiosity by announcing a one-year contract extension.
Schmidt remains confident the 34-year-old’s back problem, which required an epidural, will have subsided before Ulster’s visit to Dublin tomorrow week for the Pro 12 final.
And then, of course, he’s off to Hong Kong for a gruelling fourth Lions tour, his second in Australia, where it’s expected Warren Gatland will use his talisman sparingly to ensure he’s in prime condition for the first Lions Test on June 22nd.
With another, albeit well managed, 12 months swapping blue for green to follow.
It’s interesting to note O’Driscoll has never played more than 30 games in a season for both province and country, although he has played that amount twice, both including World Cup campaigns in 2003 and 2011. This season he has played 17 matches, and only 10 in 2011/12. Of late, O’Driscoll has mentioned the acting career of wife, Amy Huberman, and arrival of daughter Sadie as primary factors influencing the contemplation of retirement.
‘Time to think’
“I want to thank the IRFU and Leinster for allowing me the time to think about my future and discuss my options with my family,” he said via a union missive “The support my family and the Irish and Leinster fans have shown me over the past few months, and indeed years, has been phenomenal and I am now very much looking forward to one more year playing with Ireland and Leinster.”
The union’s chief executive Philip Browne added: “Brian is a truly exceptional talent and there is no doubt that this new contract will boost our game, at every level, in the coming year”.
In a light-hearted moment after yesterday’s captain’s run it was put to Schmidt that Ireland’s greatest player should have signed a two-year deal to end the same wave of speculation over the coming 12 months. “That would just about see him through the World Cup and that might be handy,” Schmidt quipped. “Look, I’ve no doubt that this time next year we may be saying the same thing.
“I guess we’re going to have to convince Amy and little Sadie of that because I think inevitably that puts a slightly different equilibrium into people’s lives and in the short term I’m just delighted he’s here for one, I’ll take that at this stage and hopefully that one goes really well for him.”
With Leo Cullen benched tonight, although he will collect the trophy if Leinster win, the captaincy passes to Ireland’s current leader Jamie Heaslip.
“As a squad member for club and country Brian’s a great guy to have around,” said Heaslip. “He’s fantastic at bringing younger players through giving them time and setting an unbelievable example in training and how you approach the game. With Ireland as well, it’s great to have Brian around for another year, he just adds another dimension at times to the game and he has a wealth of experience.
Fourth Lions tour
“This will be his fourth Lions tour, I don’t know how many European games he’s played, he’s Ireland’s most capped player, (actually that is Ronan O’Gara) it’s fantastic to have someone like that around for another year and learn even more from him. And you never know, he might even go another year after this.”
The next challenge for the Leinster medics is to get him back training by Monday, ahead of the Ulster invasion in eight days. “I wouldn’t have too many concerns about next week,” said Schmidt. “I’d be really confident”.
Much like in Roman times, the public also made their feelings abundantly clear after O’Driscoll’s try against Biarritz. “The ‘one more year’ chants, obviously we planted a few people to start them! I think Frank O’Driscoll was one of the guys in amongst them as well, I think he was pretty keen to see his son continue.
“There’s a little bit of everyone who doesn’t want a good thing to end, he’s been such a good thing for Irish rugby.”