The Six nations match against France on Saturday will surly prove to be the last of rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll, so we look at his replacements.
It is no secret that this season has not seen vintage BOD, with a general lack of attacking threat and far more mistakes than we have come to expect littering his game. But he did have a far better game against an under strength Italy.
There is no shame in this. O’Driscoll is – despite what you may have thought at times during his peak – merely human. Age is a race time will always win, and although he is committed as ever, his extensive injury list will not have helped the natural ageing process.
The question for Ireland now is who will succeed the great man. The question may not be answered this Six Nations as, with only two games left, one a possible championship decider and the other O’Driscoll’s final home game at Lansdowne, it is unlikely we will see anyone other than BOD occupy the 13 jersey, injury excepted.
Going forward, Robbie Henshaw would appear to be next in line, he started in the position for the Wolfhounds in the annual Six Nations warm-up, and when O’Driscoll was ill in the build-up to the England match, it was the 20-year old from Connacht who trained at 13.
Jared Payne, the New Zealander who will qualify for Ireland based on residency later this year, is another touted as a potential successor. Payne played 13 for New Zealand club side the Blues in 2011, but since then has played almost exclusively at 15 for Ulster. Schmidt may be keen to get a look at his capabilities with an extended run in the centre, but that would mean displacing Darren Cave, Ulster’s rock at outside centre who has had limited opportunities with the national team, Cave himself being another option for Schmidt to consider.
Another candidate is another Ulsterman, Stuart Olding, who has played virtually every position in the backline at some point in his short career. He is a youngster of undoubted talent, and it is merely a question of where Ulster see his future. He made his debut for Ireland on the Summer tour to North America at inside centre, but with an abundance of centres in Ulster the management may want to see how he fares at outhalf or fullback before trying him at 13.
All these questions can be answered at a later date however, the focus for Schmidt and his team now will be on the present, with silverware a tantalising possibility with two games remaining. There surely isn’t a man or woman in Ireland who would not like to see O’Driscoll cap his magnificent career with some vintage performances, and how perfect would it be if the man who served Irish rugby so fearlessly over the past decade and a half was to lift the trophy in Paris, the very place where the fresh-faced phenomenon announced himself to the world with that magnificent hat-trick 14 years ago.