O'Driscoll is welcomed back to Dublin Airport. INPHO/Patrick Bolger

Winning a World Cup with BOD in 1998 and watching him soar ever since

Former Connacht and Ireland Wolfhounds hooker Adrian Flavin recounts his early encounters with Brian O’Driscoll.

THERE HAS BEEN a lot of talk about Brian O’Driscoll bringing symmetry to his Ireland career by scoring a hat-trick at Paris in his final Test outing.

While a try, or two, would be a fitting way for O’Driscoll to go out, the centre’s first experience of beating France on their home patch arrived two years before his Stade-de-France treble. spoke with former Connacht hooker Adrian Flavin about winning the Under 19 World Cup with O’Driscoll in 1998.

“We had quite a team, with Donncha O’Callaghan in the pack and a backline that featured Shane Moore, Kieran Campbell, Paddy Wallace and Brian, all of whom went on to play for Ireland at senior level [Moore played U21 and for Ireland XV]. Declan Kidney was our coach, with Bart Finnan as his assistant. We were managed by Harry McKibbin.

“Kidney was a fantastic coach and a great person for us young players to be exposed to. You wouldn’t call them mind games but he had a way of asking you leading questions that made you open up about yourself. It probably came from his teaching background and was, no doubt, a tactic he used when he went on to coach Munster and Ireland. He never barked orders but he genuinely, I believe, got the best out of us.”

Ireland were based, and played, in Toulouse with a couple of games in the tournament being held at Stade Selery, home to Colomiers [now in Pro D2]. Training camp in Ireland was a week before the players set off for France but there was a warm up win over Italy in the lead-up. Kidney’s charges, Flavin recalls, were not the only side with players that would end up making the grade.

One guy that was propelled to senior level after that tournament was Gcobani Bobo. He played centre and wing for the Springboks but played that tournament as an openside. he was the South African captain, a supreme talent, and he really stood out in his white scrum cap. He was playing Super Rugby within the year. France had David Skrela running the show for them. They had a couple of props that made it through Top 14 level. I remember reminiscing with a couple of lads when Connacht played Narbonnes and Brive in Europe.”

Ireland overcame the United States 49-13 in their pool stage opener. The Boks, and captain Baby, were up next in the quarter finals. The teams played out a 17-17 draw and the match eventually went to a penalty kick shoot-out. Wallace, Moore and O’Driscoll all tried their luck but South Africa won. Irish anguish was short-lived however as match officials learned the Boks had put forward an unused substitute to knock over a penalty. Ireland advanced and set up a final against the hosts by putting Argentina away, 18-3.

Shane Moore 20/11/2002 Ireland captain Shane Moore played outside centre, with O'Driscoll in the 12 jersey. INPHO INPHO

“The final,” Flavin said, “was a hell of a day. This was our first real exposure to playing on a huge occasion. It was a highly physical game but our scrum got on top. Wallace knocked over some really good penalties and we won 18-0. We were a tight bunch of lads and it was such a fantastic feeling to have won something — the winners’ tankard — for our country.

“My Dad and brother flew over for the game and I gave them the medal to take home. The rest of the team flew straight to Dublin for a great homecoming but myself and Moore headed to Heathrow as we had training with London Irish the next day. And that was that; we moved on to the next game, the next task.”

A little over a year later and O’Driscoll was making his senior Ireland debut on tour in Australia. He featured in the 1999 Rugby World Cup and has gone on to represent Ireland 132 times. Test cap number 141 [eight Lions appearances] arrives this evening at Stade de France.

Brian O'Driscoll and Daniel Herbert 19/6/1999. O'Driscoll fends off Wallabies back Daniel Herbert on his Ireland debut. Patrick Bolger / INPHO Patrick Bolger / INPHO / INPHO

Flavin commented, “He went straight into the senior squad and didn’t look back. The story goes that many Irish players saw him at his first training session and thought ‘Who is this kid?’ By the end of it, everyone was saying ‘Bloody hell, who is he?’ Brian has gone on to arguably become Ireland’s best ever player. ”He is a coach’s dream. He demands the best of himself and of his teammates and drives standards on and off the field.

“No matter what he has done on the pitch — be it putting a teammate into space, a line break or making a tackle — he has done it at 100%. Look at the try he set up for Simon Zebo last year. He turned [Wales winger] Alex Cuthbert inside out. He goes into rucks against huge guys and wins balls. The numerous times, too, he picks and goes to score tries is remarkable.”

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