Brian O’Driscoll has called on his Ireland teammates to raise their game one last time as he bids to retire from international rugby on a high.
The legendary 35-year-old center was reduced to tears after his man of the match performance in the 46-7 victory over Italy at Lansdowne Road, a win that leaves Ireland on the verge of a second championship title in five years.
On the occasion of his last appearance at home in a green shirt, O’Driscoll had a hand in three of seven tries that leaves Joe Schmidt’s men dreaming of a victory in Paris on Saturday that, with a points difference of positive 81, would almost certainly see them crowned this year’s Six Nations champions.
“It was great, I couldn’t have asked for a better close to playing at home in an Irish jersey,” said O’Driscoll, who if victorious in Paris would hold the record for most wins in Five and Six Nations competitions with 45 having equaled former England prop Jason Leonard’s mark of 44 with the Italy victory.
“To score 46 points and concede just one try — it made the day what it was,” O’Driscoll said. “I’ll remember the day for a very long time. It wasn’t emotional before the game, I was focused on the game, but it was emotional at the end, it’s hard to take it all in.”
“If I go home and watch it all again, I might get more emotional again — but it was very special, if a little embarrassing,” he said.
“I feel we have the capabilities now of winning in Paris of course, more so now than other times we’ve gone over there,” he added. “But I realize how tough a challenge it is — we’ve won once there in 42 years, it’s one win, and one draw in 42.”
“We realize the size of the challenge, but we feel when we go well, we’re difficult to contain, so we have to get ourselves up for one massive performance,” he said.
O’Driscoll was withdrawn on the hour mark, with Schmidt admitting he had one eye on Paris when making the decision.
The Leinster hero had made his mark by then, playing key roles in both of Jonathan Sexton’s tries as well as Andrew Trimble’s first-half touchdown.
Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath also crossed the tryline on a prolific day for the home side, but Schmidt singled out his talismanic No. 13 for special praise.
“I think it was an incredibly special day for Brian — and he made it special with a hand in three tries,” Schmidt said.
“He’s creative, courageous and has a bit of magic. In these days of big centers, perhaps he’s the final bastion for smaller centers. He’s a creator of play, as regards to a big, direct runner,” Schmidt said. “And his ability to get into space, to get the right pass away and the right time is special, even if he creates a pass that’s not out of the passbook.”
For O’Driscoll, who genuinely appeared to squirm at the public accolade, it was important he delivered on the pitch, rather than feel like a special guest watching on from the sidelines.
“It was nice to be able to have an involvement in important moments in the game,” he said. “I take as much satisfaction setting up tries as scoring them — I have to as I don’t score them so much these days.”
“It was a real semi-final — we knew we’d nothing next week if we didn’t win,” he said.