Bruised and battered he may be but talismanic centre Brian O’Driscoll still has at least another year of top-level rugby to offer to Ireland, team-mate Rob Kearney believes.
Amid speculation that O’Driscoll, 34, may have played his last home game for Ireland last Saturday against France, full-back Kearney yesterday warned his Leinster clubmate not to regret calling it quits on a sport he has graced since 1999, winning 124 caps for his country and a further six for the British & Irish Lions.
As 2013 Lions head coach Warren Gatland observed Irish training yesterday at Carton House ahead of Saturday’s final Six Nations game, against Italy in Rome, O’Driscoll moved a step closer to proving his fitness for the Stadio Olimpico and perhaps the summer tour to Australia. Then he would join fellow Irish legends Mike Gibson and Willie John McBride as a four-time Lions tourist. In addition to a lacerated ear that required eight stitches and a dead leg, the former captain suffered a concussion in the 13-13 draw against France but yesterday completed the latest stage of the required return to play protocols concerning head injuries.
The physical toll on the body of a player renowned for his warrior-like contribution will play a part in O’Driscoll’s deliberations about whether to retire this summer but Kearney is convinced there is definite case for extending a glorious career beyond this summer Down Under.
“I think for someone like Brian there’s a huge balance there of going out on a high and as well being comfortable going out,” Kearney said.
“The worst thing for him would be to retire and then regret it, regardless of how much of a high you go out on.
“So for him it’s about striking that balance between the two.
“I think his physical state is going to tell him a huge amount but he’s always said he just wants to get through this Six Nations, try and enjoy it, play well, and then start making some decisions, probably over the next month or two. But certainly, from my perspective, I think there’s still quite a bit left in the tank for him.”
Kearney, just seven games into a comeback from back surgery, would dearly love to play alongside O’Driscoll again on a Lions tour, as they did in South Africa four years ago but the full-back also has his eye on another Six Nations playing in behind Ireland’s greatest player.
“Yeah, I’d love to be,” Kearney said. “He’s one of those great players that brings so much to the game and brings so much to the team as well.
“I think when Brian’s there it’s a different team and guys feed off him hugely. The longer you have these type of characters on the team it can only be good for us.”
There was more positive, if not definitive, injury news , concerning fellow centre Luke Marshall, another concussion victim last weekend, and lock Donnacha Ryan (AC shoulder joint).
“They’ve come through fine,” an Ireland spokesperson said. “Both Brian and Luke came through the graded return that they had to do and they’re both fine.
“That’s done every day, they do their exercises every day and they’ll probably take contact on Thursday and see how that goes. Donnacha is just resting the shoulder, so there’s no point in him taking contact so he might probably do that on Thursday, hopefully.”
Wing Craig Gilroy, though, yesterday declared himself fit to play having recovered from the groin injury suffered against Scotland, which caused him to miss the France game.
Gilroy had scored Ireland’s only try against the Scots in the 12-8 loss at Murrayfield and he returned to contact training yesterday: “I worked hard the last week and a half and did a lot of rehab and a lot of work with the physios,” Gilroy said.
“I felt really good and I’d love to be involved at the weekend. The time I’ve had off my feet has been a massive help and I’m buzzing now and just ready to get back playing.”
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