Six Nations: O'Driscoll proves to be Ireland's lucky charm

Brian O’Driscoll was dubbed the best centre in the world by French coach Bernard Laporte after ending his side’s title dream for the second successive season.

Brian O’Driscoll was dubbed the best centre in the world by French coach Bernard Laporte after ending his side’s title dream for the second successive season.

The 22 year old Dubliner followed up his three-try salvo in Paris last spring with the all-important score in Saturday’s crunch 22-15 victory at Lansdowne Road, Ireland’s first win over the French in Dublin for 18 years.

The gifted Blackrock College man, who returned from a shoulder injury in magnificent style, is conservatively rated the best Irish centre since the great Mike Gibson in the late 1960s but he modestly played down Laporte’s eulogy.

"It’s very flattering but I would say Daniel Herbert and Tim Horan and a few of the other boys might have something to say about that," he said. "I wouldn’t look too much into it."

Nevertheless, a second man-of-the-match award against the French demonstrated further the sheer class of a player guaranteed to be on the Lions tour to Australia this summer.

A host of his team-mates are also certain to be named in the initial 70-strong squad on Wednesday. Apart from obvious choices Keith Wood and Malcolm O’Kelly, fringe candidates like Ronan O’Gara, John Hayes and Peter Stringer enhanced their claims in another impressive performance from the multi-talented national team.

But it was O’Driscoll who was the talk of the town as Ireland underlined their emergence as a genuine force in northern hemisphere rugby.

The razor-sharp centre, who has yet to lose to the French at any level of rugby, caused panic with each touch of the ball, invariably getting past his opposite number, Richard Dourthe, and drawing expectant gasps from the 48,000 crowd.

Despite enjoying the overwhelming share of possession and territorial advantage - France had the ball for just nine minutes in each half - Ireland needed four penalties from Ronan O’Gara to put them in a winning position before O’Driscoll struck.

The outside centre burst down the right and, despite full-back Xavier Garbajosa’s last-ditch challenge, used his deceptive strength to keep hold of the ball and touch down one-handedly in the corner.

O’Driscoll actually appeared to lose control of the ball and Australian referee Scott Young needed to consult video offical Brian Campsall for confirmation, with slow-motion replays on the big screen serving to heighten the tension.

"I was very unsure," the try scorer admittedly honestly. "It was very much a 50-50 call. I was trying to fend off Garbajosa and trying to control the ball. I was trying to do three things at once.

"It’s a pity it takes so long but the video referee obviously felt he needed time and I’ll certainly stand by his decision.

"Yes, it is a good idea because teams are getting cheated out of scoring legitimate tries. So it is fair."

O’Gara’s superb touchline conversion and a subsequent penalty put the Irish apparently out of sight at 22-3 but for 10 minutes the French re-discovered their old flair and punished an unsuspecting defence with two quickfire tries from skipper Fabien Pelous and winger Philippe Bernat-Salles.

A conversion from Christophe Lamaison, who was sin-binned in the first half for a foul on Tyrone Howe, to add to an earlier penalty briefly caused a few palpitations among the faithful but Ireland just about kept their nerve for the final 10 minutes to cling on to a thoroughly deserved victory.

Ireland now look irresistible as they head for Cardiff, where they have not lost since 1983, and the optimistic pundits are already looking ahead to a championship decider against England at Lansdowne Road on March 24.

O’Driscoll is not looking further than the game at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday week and, although he anticipates further improvement from the Irish side, he warns of a tough battle against the Welsh.

"Let everyone else look ahead to England," he said. "It won’t be as big a match if we don’t beat Wales. You don’t look any further than your next game.

"Wales are going to be really needing a win after drawing with the Scots. We’ve got to get ourselves ready for a tough, physical game.

"We let it slip against France. We shouldn’t have let them in for two tries. We nodded off and let them play. We probably lost our concentration a bit.

"The whole squad is very good, even the A team, and we’re coming on in leaps and bounds with every game."

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