Rugby statistics: Why is Brian O'Driscoll's 13 jersey so unlucky?
Chris Farrell not blessed with good fortune and latest in long list of Ireland casualties
There were four different players who wore the green 13 in the first five Test matches after O’Driscoll’s retirement. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Triskaidekaphobia, Brian O’Driscoll’s Twitter handle and the word that also adorns the official Leinster supporters club T-shirt in his honour, is a morbid fear of the number 13 and was chosen as a homily to the manner in which he terrorised defences during his rugby career; he also had digits on his boots.
From the moment he made his debut for Ireland on a summer tour to Australia in 1999 to his last appearance in the green jersey against France in the final match of the 2014 Six Nations Championship, he made a remarkable 133 appearances (132 starts) for his country in the number 13 jersey, scoring a record 46 tries.
Ignoring the considerable haul of trophies and personal accolades he amassed for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions, he was a conspicuously durable player – his shoulder injury suffered in the first Test against New Zealand in the 2005 tour preempted his longest continuous period on the sidelines – especially considering the manner in which he played the game.
Those that have succeeded him in the Ireland number 13 jersey may or may not be superstitious but following the relatively innocuous incident that befell Ireland’s man of the match in the victory over Wales at an Irish training session this week, Chris Farrell, the most recent incumbents have not been blessed with good fortune.
Since O’Driscoll retired 10 players have worn the Ireland 13 jersey in 46 matches, 45 Tests and in the case of former Belvedere College, Clontarf and Leinster – he made one appearance for Munster – the 27-year-old Collie O’Shea, now retired, who played in a non-cap match for an Irish XV against the Barbarians at Thomond Park.
The answer to a potential quiz question as to the identity of the player who succeeded O’Driscoll in the Irish 13 shirt is Ulster centre Darren Cave. He wore the jersey in Ireland’s opening match of a two-Test tour to Argentina in the summer of 2014 and the following week he moved to inside centre with Fergus McFadden trying the 13 shirt for size.
In fact there were four different players who wore the green 13 in the first five Test matches after O’Driscoll’s retirement. In the November Test series of 2014 the newly Irish qualified Ulster fullback Jared Payne made his debut in the 29-15 win over the Springboks. Unfortunately he picked up a mid-foot sprain too and was absent for the final two games in the Guinness series.
Cave reprised his role from the summer in a 49-7 victory over Georgia while Robbie Henshaw made a bow in the 13 jersey in a 26-23 victory over a Michael Cheika coached, Australia. There was more continuity for the 2015 Six Nations with Payne at outside centre for all five matches; Ireland won four and with it the tournament on a memorable final day in Edinburgh.
O’Shea, who subsequently retired through injury, played against the Barbarians, and then the 13 shirt was passed through three hands, Payne (twice), Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald (also now sadly retired because of injury) in four warm-up matches ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Payne was invalided out of the tournament in the second game and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt turned to Keith Earls, the Munster player occupying the role against Italy, France and the quarter-final defeat to Argentina.
By the start of the 2016 Six Nations Payne had recovered, and despite sustaining a hamstring injury in the defeat to France, wore the 13 shirt in four of the five games; Henshaw deputised in the 21-10 defeat to England at Twickenham.
Payne was back at outside centre for three of the four end-of-year Tests including the famous win over the All Blacks in Chicago, but was again plagued by bad luck when he sustained a laceration to his kidney in the win over the Wallabies that saw him miss the entire 2017 Six Nations.
Garry Ringrose, who made his debut in the victory over Canada, the previous November, played in the next eight matches, the longest continuous run by one player in the 13 jersey since O’Driscoll’s retirement. Following the summer tour though he underwent double shoulder surgery and Henshaw was parachuted into the role in a 38-3 victory over South Africa.
Farrell took it for the win over Fiji and retained it for the Pumas clash in the absence of the injured Henshaw, but the Ulster-born Munster centre picked up a knee injury that sidelined him for five weeks. Henshaw played the first two matches of the Six Nations only to damage his shoulder when scoring a second try in the win over Italy.
This coupled with Farrell’s training accident – there was no one near him when he caught his studs and damaged knee ligaments during the week – shows the precarious nature of professional sport.
Schmidt may have asked Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen not to play Ringrose in west Wales this weekend, a conversation that wouldn’t have taken place if Farrell had remained in rude health.
Any further injury ahead of Ireland’s Six Nations game against Scotland on Saturday week to a player wearing the number 13 jersey would be ridiculously unfortunate, bringing players like Marshall and McCloskey into any discussion although based on previous evidence the in-form Earls – he played the final three matches of the 2015 World Cup at outside centre – would be an obvious candidate. Hopefully that need won’t arise.
The Irish 13s are due a change in fortune. After all some consider 13 a lucky number, Italians (except for numbers seated at a table), Cantonese-speaking people and a couple of notable soccer players, Eusebio and Gerd Muller.