Brian O’Driscoll hopes his battered body does not betray him as be embarks on a potentially career-defining six months that began in virtuoso fashion with Ireland’s 30-22 victory over Wales.
O’Driscoll opened the RBS Six Nations with a man-of-the- match performance headlined by the genius that created the opening try for Simon Zebo, but also notable for his own touch down and a frenzied shift in defence. With the Lions travelling to Australia this summer and the captaincy up for grabs, it was an immaculately-timed reminder of his enduring brilliance that left opposite number Jonathan Davies – a rival for selection at outside centre against the Wallabies – outclassed.
Bookmakers reacted by promoting the 2005 Lions skipper to favourite to lead the tour after he had started the day third in line behind Sam Warburton and Chris Robshaw. O’Driscoll has conceded this may be his last Six Nations and he left the Millennium Stadium with blood coating his nose and his left ear marked by several stitches.
Ankle surgery resulted in his absence from Ireland’s autumn campaign, while shoulder and hamstring problems have troubled him in the past, and he admitted that fitness and not desire will determine his future.
“Who doesn’t like man of the match? They are few and far between these days, but when they’re there you enjoy them,” he said. “The big thing is trying to be fit and getting as close to 100 per cent fit as you possibly can when you take to the pitch. I felt good against Wales, my ankles both felt good, as did all the other bumps and bruises. If you can start games that way you have every chance of putting in a half decent performance.”
Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards described O’Driscoll as “the difference between the two teams” while Ireland coach Declan Kidney declared “the bottom line is you would love to have the guy around forever”.
But having witnessed a pulsating championship opener in Cardiff that consisted of an almost-uninterrupted second half of defensive bravery from the Irish, Kidney sounded a note of caution over the inevitable physical toll.
“If you look at the performance he put in, that’s not easy on the body,” Kidney said. “Huge credit to him, given the amount of game time he has had, to come out and give such an international class performance like he did.”
Meanwhile, Mike Phillips has urged Wales to play with “no fear” when they bid to bounce back with an odds-defying victory against France on Saturday.
“We gave away a lot of penalties in the first-half and couldn’t really got our hands on the ball. We couldn’t get started,” said the scrum-half of Saturday’s defeat. “First things first, we’ve got to start better. The game got away from us in the first-half. We were off the boil.
“France are a good side and on form, so it is going to be immensely tough, but we’ve just got to go there with belief and play some rugby. When we get desperate we tend to play a bit better. We need to have an edge about us from the first whistle and throw everything in.
“We need to back ourselves and come out of our shells and really go for it. It’s as simple as that. We need to play with no fear from the start. We’ve got to cut the mistakes out and have the belief.”
Scorers: Wales: Tries: Cuthbert, Halfpenny, Mitchell. Cons: Halfpenny 2. Pens: Halfpenny. Ireland: Ireland: Tries: Zebo, Healy, O’Driscoll. Cons: Sexton 3. Pens: Sexton 3. Wales: Halfpenny; Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts, North; Biggar, Phillips; Jenkins, Rees, A Jones, Coombs, Evans, Shingler, Warburton, Faletau. Subs: L Williams for Phillips (64), Owens for Rees (52), Kohn for Evans (74), Tipuric for Shingler (45). Ireland: Kearney; Gilroy, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Zebo; Sexton, Murray, Healy, Best, Ross, McCarthy, Ryan, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip. Subs: Earls for D’Arcy (45), Reddan for Zebo (80), Fitzpatrick for Ross (69), O’Callaghan for McCarthy (74), Henry for O’Mahony (52).