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.
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.
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.”
Last weekend saw some great rugby, huge results, and even bigger talking points. Here are five things we learned, as London Welsh lost again, Danny Cipriani put himself in the shop window and Leigh Halfpenny came to life in Toulon.
The Exiles lost their 13th game in a row on Sunday as Newcastle ran in six tries at Kingston Park to secure a victory that was embarrassingly straightforward.
It is not just that Welsh are losing every week but the manner of their defeats that has caused fans to wince at times this season. But that does not mean the Championship play-off system is failing.
Although Bristol are on course to finish top of the regular season for the fourth time in six seasons, they have not been promoted in that time.
Yet it is easy to forget that they were only separated by Welsh due to bonus points at the end of last term, and there have been success stories. Exeter have hardly been an embarrassment since coming up via the play-offs, and Worcester put up a good fight.
Welsh’s problems stem from the task of gelling 26 new recruits during one pre-season, not the system that saw them promoted.
Cipriani would be a huge loss to Sale, the Premiership and England
Following a week that saw his boss Steve Diamond admit that a Six Nations snub could well result in Danny Cipriani packing his bags for France, the fly-half again proved his quality.
Cipriani was the architect of Sale’s fine 20-7 win over champions Northampton, and comprehensively won the battle with fellow England hopeful Stephen Myler.
Stuart Lancaster, watching on at the AJ Bell Stadium, could only have been impressed and now he has a serious decision to make ahead of the clash with Wales in Cardiff next month.
Certainly Cipriani deserves to be included when the Saxons face the Ireland Wolfhounds in Cork at the end of January. And if he impresses, who knows?
What is for sure, is the Sharks and indeed the Premiership will be the losers if the mercurial playmaker does head across the channel.
Morgan injury gives Lancaster licence to experiment
Having grabbed hold of the England No8 short with a couple of dominant performances in the autumn, Ben Morgan’s injury is as ill-timed as it was horrific.
Yet, the Gloucester man’s misfortune does give Red Rose coach Lancaster the chance to look at his options at the base of the scrum during the Six Nations.
While Billy Vunipola should profit against Wales in Cardiff, Lancaster should take the opportunity to have a glance at Steffon Armitage and Nick Easter too.
The case for Armitage’s inclusion in the England squad has been well documented and he continues to impress for Toulon as an eight. Easter meanwhile has arguably been the Premiership’s stand-out performer in that position, and despite his advancing years produced an incredible sleight of hand to set up a Danny Care try against Leicester on Saturday.
Lancaster’s concern with Easter, who will be 37 in September, has always been whether he will still be playing at the top level when the World Cup arrives. A new two-year contract at Harlequins suggests emphatically that he will.
Jones’ rage at scrum ‘farce’ understandable
Another weekend of European rugby and another weekend dominated by the referees’ handling of the scrum.
Newport Gwent Dragons head coach Lyn Jones clearly feels strongly about the issue, branding the set piece “the scourge of the game” and a “farce” following his side’s 22-11 defeat to the Ospreys.
The former British School Al Khubairat coach has a point too. On Friday night Gloucester were almost denied victory as JP Doyle turned down what appeared to be a blatant penalty late on.
It is an increasingly murky part of the game, and one where the interpretation of the referee is becoming more and more important, as he decides who is in the ascendancy.
Jones says he coaches his players to push straight and true, and just wants others to do the same against his side, but that may be considered wishful thinking.
Halfpenny hits his straps to cut Racing adrift
It is fair to say that Leigh Halfpenny’s French adventure did not get off to the start he had hoped, but signs are he is beginning to settle in to life at Toulon.
Halfpenny took just four minutes to score the opening try in his side’s 32-23 win over Racing Metro, latching onto a pass from Matt Giteau before crashing over the whitewash.
The Welsh full-back added a further 12 points from the boot, and provided the pass for Bryan Habana to score, in an impressive display as Toulon put breathing space between them in third and fourth-placed Racing.
Halfpenny’s performance could not have come at a better time for his club side, with Delon Armitage suspended until February 9.
Toulon will hope he can replicate his display in Europe as Ulster head to the south of France on Saturday.
While Halfpenny was kicking Toulon to victory, team-mate Bakkies Botha was providing prove – if indeed it were needed – that he is as hard as they come.
The World Cup winner picked up a painful-looking broken finger in the first half at the Stade Felix Mayol, yet sauntered off as if nothing was wrong. We’ll let you judge for yourself…
Australia back James O’Connor says he leaves Toulon after Sunday’s Top 14 clash against Stade Francais after “a great six months” with the French champions.
The 24-year-old is heading home to join Queensland Reds in a bid to boost his chances of being selected for the Wallabies’ 2015 World Cup squad.
“I’ve picked up so many things from my time here,” he said on Saturday.
“I’ve learnt a great deal from this team. Playing with top players gives you confidence.
“There’s a real culture of winning here, I’m sure the boys are going to win the Top 14 and the European Champions Cup.”
Explaining his decision to return home he added: “I’m going back to Australia in the hope of fulfilling a dream: to play in the World Cup.
“I will do everything to earn my selection, first of all in the Super 15, then with the national team.”
O’Connor was dropped by Australia in September 2013 in the wake of an incident at Perth airport that reportedly saw him escorted from the premises for arguing with airline staff.
The then Australia coach Ewen McKenzie declared that O’Connor would have to “modify (his) behaviour” if he wanted to resurrect his international career.
The player noted: “I didn’t leave on good terms. I’ve got things to prove to my country.”
O’Connor has turned out 10 times for Toulon, scoring four tries with a total of 59 points.
Reflecting on his Top 14 spell he said: “I’ve grown up. I’ve really developed my game, especially in attack, in learning how to make good decisions. I understand rugby better now.”
He quits Toulon meanwhile with fond memories of his half year in France.
“I love the way of life in France, the culture and their style of living suits me perfectly.
“I reckon it’s the ideal place for me to better express myself both on and off the pitch.”