‘When he go off I say yes! When . . back I say Non!’
Matthieu Bastareaud cried the first time he watched Brian O’Driscoll play rugby for Ireland and he wasn’t too enamoured when a player, whom the young Frenchman rates as the best centre of his generation, returned from a four-minute medical hiatus, to once again stand sentinel in the shadow of the Irish posts for a brutal end game at the Aviva Stadium.
Even though he scrambled to choose the right words in his second language there was an unvarnished eloquence to the sentiment expressed by Bastareaud when he observed: “When he go off I say “yes!” When he come back I say “Non!”
The Frenchman continued: “When he started for the national team I was 11, so I watched on my TV when he try-ed three times in Paris. I cried this day. All the French people cry. To see Brian, for my generation, I think is a model. He did amazing things. He is magic. I think a lot of centres in the world are happy he stops.
“It is hard to play against him. He reads the game very well; he anticipates all the time. I think he is the best player I have ever seen at my position. He is a good kicker, a good passer, he has speed. He is a very complete player. He has a lot of presence. He is not big, but he carries himself well. When you play against him, you know about it.”
His team-mates are also unequivocal in their support. Donnacha Ryan, Ireland’s lineout general, resembled a considerably taller version of Napoleon with his hand tucked across his stomach under his jacket, the legacy of a shoulder injury. He admitted: “He’s phenomenal really. He just doesn’t quit really, he’s relentless. The delivery of how he speaks is quite accurate and filled with passion. It’s very good to even be in the same dressing room alongside him.
“Obviously you’re looking at him over the years and you have the utmost admiration for him so to be able to play alongside him is phenomenal. To be honest the way the man is playing, I couldn’t see why he’d be thinking it’s his last game. Age is just a number and to be fair to him he’s playing really, really well. They should probably nearly sign him up for a development contract the way he is going; for ten years. To be fair to him, obviously Irish rugby would be gutted to see him go.”
Conor Murray, excellent in his 63 minutes on the pitch, offered an involuntary shake of the head as he considered the possibility of an Ireland team missing their talisman. “He’s an unbelievable pro; he’s got a bad dead leg and still managed to come back on the pitch and try to do his bit for the team. I don’t know what he’s thinking. I can’t speak for him.
“If it is his last game, he played a huge part again today. He’s obviously a legend of Irish rugby. Hopefully he stays around. I’m sure he’s plenty to give if he decides to. But again that’s up to him.”
Murray supported coach Declan Kidney's decision to replace him. To be honest, I was probably feeling it a little at that stage. “It was just past the 60-minute mark. The ground was really heavy today. We were defending a good bit and covering a lot of ground. To be honest, I was feeling a bit tired. We’ve full faith in Eoin Reddan coming off the bench and he nearly put Keith Earls away for a try. It was a good substitution. I was a bit tired at the time.”
In mentioning Earls, Murray highlighted a player involved in arguably the game’s most controversial moment. The Irish wing was nudged by replacement prop Vicent Debaty in the three-way footrace, won by French number eight try scorer Louis Picamoles. The TMO ruled out a penalty try, suggested to match referee Steve Walsh that he award a penalty, but the latter, in viewing the incident on the big screen decided against it. Earls was on hand to offer his version. Was he impeded? “Definitely, 100 per cent: I have to look at the video again. I don’t know whether it is a penalty try but it’s definitely a penalty.”