AS BRIAN O’DRISCOLL prepares for the final game of his playing career, former Ireland teammate Alan Quinlan says the outside centre’s presence behind the scenes will perhaps be missed more than his contributions on the pitch.
At 35, the Clontarf man is not in his athletic prime any longer, with Quinlan feeling that O’Driscoll’s influence in attack has naturally waned in recent seasons, as with all older backs.
“I mean this respectfully to the guy, but I think over the last year he became more normal,” says the Sky Sports analyst. “He wasn’t hitting the same heights, making all of those clean line breaks and breaking the gainline all the time.
“I think he had to adapt and change his game like a lot of players have to do in their 30s when they have lost that yard of pace maybe, especially for a back.
The one thing I always felt playing against him for Munster was that you always had a better chance when he wasn’t playing. Not necessarily because he was going to carve you open and score a load of tries, but because of his presence.
“You could never underestimate the presence of Drico in a group. So maybe not from a playing point of view [that he will be missed], but off the pitch his presence will be missed – there’s no doubt.
“You have all that experience he has built up in the tough challenges throughout his career, the confidence booster for young guys when you’re going into a daunting challenge and Drico has a chat; he has the confidence to go and deliver, so he will be a loss.
“Obviously, his game as well but in the last year or so he hasn’t been making all of those line breaks. That’s life, isn’t it? He’s had an amazing career and he’ll be certainly missed. But it’s an opportunity for other guys now to try and emulate elements of the career he’s had.”
Quinlan’s fellow Sky Sports analyst, Paul Wallace, does believe that O’Driscoll’s absence will be felt on the pitch next season, particularly on the international scene, where the centre’s defensive excellence has been so vital.
“Where Ireland will miss him is defensively,” says Wallace. “As an attacking threat, he does still have some beautiful touches, but he’s like having two defenders out wide. His reading of situations is second to none.
He’s not the biggest, most physical guy but the combination of his experience and natural instincts, that ability to slow the ball down [are important]. It’s the hardest position to defend, that penultimate defender in the 13 channel, because everything happens.
“It’s a very wide area. It’s not just experience, it’s a natural instinct and he’s always had it, but he’s also like a jackal. He’s just flying after everything, that ferocity he goes into everything with.”
Sky Sports analysts Alan Quinlan and Paul Wallace were speaking ahead of the Ireland Rugby Tour to Argentina, which will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 2 and via Sky Go.