Ireland’s grand slam-winning captain Brian O’Driscoll ended months of uncertainty over his future yesterday when he agreed to play on for one more year for province and country.
O’Driscoll, who will travel for his fourth British and Irish Lions tour next month, turned 34 this year and had said he would wait until July to decide whether to call time on a glittering 14-year international career.
The centre’s decision will come as a huge boost to Leinster and new Irish coach Joe Schmidt, whom O’Driscoll holds in high regard, as the Kiwi looks to pick the national side up from its worst Six Nations championship in 14 years.
It also means O’Driscoll’s last significant act in a green jersey will not be his sin-binning for stamping in Ireland’s closing Six Nations defeat in Rome.
O’Driscoll said in a statement: “I want to thank the IRFU and Leinster for allowing me the time to think about my future and discuss my options with my family. I am now very much looking forward to one more year with Ireland and Leinster.”
Already Ireland’s record tryscorer, O’Driscoll will now
probably overhaul out-of-favour stand-off Ronan O’Gara as the country’s most-capped player. He needs three more appearances to match O’Gara’s 128 caps. Before the Lions trip to Australia, O’Driscoll had hoped to add the Amlin Challenge Cup and RaboDirect Pro 12 to a trophy collection with Leinster that already includes three Heineken Cups. However, he was forced to withdraw from tonight’s Amlin Cup final against Stade Francais after suffering a back spasm during Leinster’s RaboDirect PRO12 victory over Glasgow last weekend.
Schmidt, who will lead Leinster for the last time in those two finals, said when he accepted the Ireland job last month that he would do all he could to keep hold of the man named player of the last decade by Rugby World magazine.
“It’s great that Brian has agreed to continue playing. He’s an inspirational player, not only on the pitch, but also on the training ground,” Schmidt said.
Meanwhile, Isaac Boss expects Stade Francais to show no fear when they chase Amlin Challenge Cup glory against Leinster in Dublin tonight. Boss and company will start as firm favourites for further European success following Heineken Cup triumphs in three of the past four seasons.
Leinster’s Heineken pool stage exit – home and away defeats against Clermont cost them – meant they entered the Amlin knockout phase as one of three group runners-up, before victories over Wasps and Biarritz secured a final place on home soil.
Stade, meanwhile, knocked out Bath and Perpignan away from home, which is why scrum-half Boss knows complacency is not an option for Leinster’s tonight. “They have a very strong team,” Boss said. “They haven’t done as well in the league as they should but I think they have got a real focus on this Amlin tournament.”
Although O’Driscoll misses the game, Leinster start four of their six British and Irish Lions for this summer’s tour in full-back Rob Kearney, stand-off Jonathan Sexton, flanker Sean O’Brien and No 8 Jamie Heaslip.
Prop Cian Healy is on the bench.