THE CHANTS OF ‘one more year’ will not wash this season — Brian O’Driscoll will jink into the sunset this May.
The legendary centre will hope his final two Leinster games are on 24 and 31 May in the finals of the Pro12 and Heineken Cup. There is a lot of rugby to be played beforehand but the date, barring injury or suspension, of O’Driscoll’s last game for Ireland is fast approaching. France at the Stade de France, on 15 March, is Ireland’s final Six Nations game.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will be then tasked with replacing the irreplaceable. Her are the candidates to wear the iconic 13 jersey in Argentina next summer.
The Wicklow native has long coveted the outside centre position but has been used frequently on the left wing by Leinster and Ireland. Three in the Irish midfield, in 2008, but they were all inside O’Driscoll. Performed well in a 30-minute stint as O’Driscoll’s replacement against the All Blacks in November.
Earls tackles Fitzgerald in October. INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Another player with long-held designs on the 13 jersey but a regular starter on the wing. 12 of the Munster man’s 39 caps have been at outside centre. His only tries in the position, for Ireland, came against Russia in the 2011 World Cup. Both were scored when he drifted out to the left wing to finish off moves [much like this excellent try for Munster against Leinster below].
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Four of Cave’s five Ireland caps have been at outside centre but against Tier Two countries Canada and the USA. The 26-year-old impressed for ‘Ireland XV’ against Fiji late last year but was forced to look on from the sidelines as teammates Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy were promoted to senior roles. Scored his first try against Canada during the summer but was left frustrated, again, as Joe Schmidt overlooked him for the November Series.
Cave streaks clear of Henshaw at The Sportsground. INPHO/James Crombie
The 20-year-old is a firm favourite of Joe Schmidt and his defence coach, Les Kiss. Having impressed at fullback last season, Connacht [with a nudge from on high] trialled Henshaw at outside centre in September and October before reverting him to his strongest role for the Heineken Cup. Made his Ireland debut against the US Eagles during the summer. That was in the 15 shirt but his two other caps, off the bench, were at 13.
The left-field option but one that might prove a workable stop-gap until the 2015 World Cup. D’Arcy suggested after the November loss to New Zealand that he would probably not face them again. Still, D’Arcy may play on another season before finishing up at the World Cup. He has played outside centre for Ireland in the past and Schmidt often used him in the role as Leinster coach.
D’Arcy and O’Driscoll have started 52 times together in the Irish midfield. INPHO/James Crombie
The versatile Ulsterman has impressed since his breakthrough last season, when he hit the ground running at inside centre. Olding, who can also play at out-half, was used as fullback earlier this season and won the praise of coach Mark Anscombe. Made his Ireland debut during the summer and will be hoping to recover from a bad knee injury to be in the mix for next summer’s tour to Argentina.
Olding evades a US Eagle during the summer. INPHO/Billy Stickland
The 23-year-old Galwegian made his Connacht debut in the 2009/10 season but has held down a regular spot at outside centre over the last two and a half years. Griffin was called into the Emerging Ireland squad, during the summer, and featured in three Tbilisi Cup matches.
Not up for Irish qualification until the start of next season but a live option once he gets clearance. The 28-year-old Kiwi has played Super Rugby with the Chiefs, Crusaders and Blues. Payne overcame a bad knee injury in his first full season with Ulster to star for the province last term. He has featured at outside centre this season and is a key, creative component of the Ulster backline. Schmidt will approve of his multi-positional [fullback, wing, centre] talents.
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The 24-year-old from South Africa will not be eligible to play for Ireland until just before the 2015 World Cup but can press his case by building on a strong start to his career with Connacht. Poolman can play on either wing or at outside centre [his preferred position] and has an eye for the tryline.
*Who do you think should start 13 for Ireland once BOD retires?