INTERVIEW: Brian O'Driscoll and his harboured regret

Matt Jones - Editor 11:24 15/01/2015
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  • Winning smile: Brian O'Driscoll reflects on a remarkable career with Leinster, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions.

    From the perspective of a budding rugby player, even if you could dream the sweetest dream imaginable, it’s hard to envisage it being more magical than the career Brian O’Driscoll has had.

    – #360rugby: Welsh out of playoffs, Cipriani shines
    – A Year of Promise: Ten things to expect in 2015

    Captaining your club, your country, the British & Irish Lions, winning the Northern Hemisphere’s most iconic prize in the Six Nations Grand Slam, being the record appearance maker for not only Ireland but also holding the record for being the most capped international rugby player ever – that’s pretty special.

    There’s more. His 46 tries for Ireland make him his country’s highest try scorer of all time and he is the highest scoring centre of all time. O’Driscoll has more Heineken Cup tries (30) than any other Irishman and holds the Six Nations try-scoring record with 26, while he has won the tournament’s best player award three times.

    Despite accomplishing all of these feats, O’Driscoll still admits there are some regrets, chief among them the way he handled his omission from the final Test starting team that claimed a famous Lions series win against Australia in 2013.

    I made a stupid remark in a TV interview when it was still probably a little bit raw,” the 35-year-old says of coach Warren Gatland’s decision to leave him out of the third Test.

    Gatland caused uproar, in Ireland at least, when he instead went with the Wales pairing of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in the centre, a decision vindicated by the fact the Lions went on to destroy Australia 41-16 in Sydney and claim a 2-1 series win.

    “As much as I was hugely honoured to be part of a winning Lions series, it would have been nicer to have been playing,” adds O’Driscoll, who retired from all forms of rugby after Leinster beat Glasgow Warriors 34-12 in the Pro12 Grand Final last May.

    “That’s just the competitive animal wanting to be involved. When you’re left out there’s no difference than any other disappointment.

    “Guys get left out of teams week in week out. It just happened to be the third Test in the Lions and the last one I was ever going to play in, so it probably made it a little bit har-der to take. You get over these things and the main thing for the Lions was that they won the series.”

    O’Driscoll says the fact that the Lions won in his absence means Gatland, ultimately, got his decision right.

    “He did because we won the series and the game by 40 points,” he says.

    “We played a power game, picked a big side and really just beat up the Aussies. You’d be an idiot to think he hadn’t got it right. Would things have been any different if I’d played? You never know, but Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts had really good games, as did the rest of the side, so the decision was completely justified.”

    O'Driscoll is trying to keep hinself busy, which includes working as a TV analyst for BT Sport for the Champtions Cup coverage and doing some radio work, while a rugby app called Ultimate Rugby, which he helped launch two years ago, is doing well.

    He's also a working HSBC ambassador which has brought him to the UAE this week ahead of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championships.

    O'Driscoll claims he's not one for dwelling on the past, although he does look back on his career with immense pride tinged with regret. 

    "I'm proud, but you also have regrets I would have liked to have been a bit more porgessional early on and won a few more things earlier in my career, but perhaps that drove me on and gave me the hunger to achieve success later on. In the last four or five years I won a lot for my club and country and won a Lions series, so I'm glad I hung in there," he says. 

    "Maybe in the future I'll sit my kids down and tell them about their old man, but for the time being theres too much going on."

    Retirement has meant O’Driscoll leaving a vast legacy and a void in Ireland’s midfield, although he has been buoyed by the Men in Green’s progress without him, even if it has left his ego a little bruised.

    O'Driscoll was well-known for his abrasive style of play which put him out of action with many shoulder/head injuries.

    A 49-7 routine thrashing of Georgia was sandwiched by beating South Africa 29-15 and Australia 26-23 in November’s autumn international series.

    November was a little bit hard though, it was a bit of a double-edged sword,” he says. “You want them to go really well but at the same time you want to be missed a small bit, it’s human nature to feel like that. I was thinking ‘at least lads give me a year before you start absolutely blitzing teams’.

    “The future’s definitely bright, there’s a lot of talent coming through. It’s nice to be able to look at the team and see them prosper under a great coaching staff.”

    In assessing Ireland’s chances of defending their Six Nations crown, the 133-capped O’Driscoll adds: “Ireland have England and France at home and that’s the way we won the Grand Slam but then you have tricky trips to Cardiff and I definitely think Murrayfield is going to be a really hard place to go this year.

    With a new pitch, new coaching staff and the fact Ireland get them at the end, they’ll have a nice bit of continuity and they’ll be well drilled. They’re the potential banana skin.”

    Whoever wins the Six Nations will have fantastic momentum heading into the World Cup, which starts in September.

    Ireland enter 2015 in superb form and certainly as the best home nation, and O’Driscoll – who never made it past the quarter-final stage as a player – believes something special could be brewing.

    “I definitely think we can get to a semi- final, we can absolutely do that,” he says. “You don’t think about trying to win the World Cup when you start out, just about getting out of your group, hopefully as the number one seed and probably the easier draw in the quarter-final. Once you’re into a semi-final, you’re only one game away from a World Cup final.

    “When you break it down into those small compartments, why wouldn’t it be achievable, if they can put together some of the form they’ve shown over the last year? “Consistency is the main thing because that’s been our downfall over the years. I think we’ll be better equipped coming into this World Cup, providing we can look after a couple of our really key players.”