Brian O’Driscoll will embark on his final season of Test rugby this evening having been told he is still the best outside centre in the world.
O’Driscoll, 34, is set to win his 126th cap today, when Ireland face Samoa in the first of three Guinness Series Tests this month at the Aviva Stadium and with the Grand Slam-winning captain set to retire from rugby at the end of the season, tonight’s clash is one of only six chances to see him in the green jersey on home soil.
A calf injury may have kept O’Driscoll sidelined for five weeks and restricted him to just 73 minutes of rugby so far this season, against Cardiff Blues on September 27, but Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss believes O’Driscoll is still on top of his game and deserving of status as the best No.13 in world rugby.
“I think Brian has to be still considered one of the best 13s in the world, without a doubt,” Kiss said yesterday. “Certainly there are some guns around the place like [New Zealand’s] Conrad Smith who’s been really consistent lately, but I don’t think Brian falls off the edge in any area.
“His commitment to everything in terms of preparation and his game when you saw him come on for his first game this year was sublime. His skill-set is still there and his appetite for it is still there. I don’t think you could dispute that statement, no.”
Defence coach Kiss said that rather than seeing O’Driscoll’s powers diminish, the Irish icon’s game had evolved across his illustrious career.
“Over time when you carry a few more injuries they always have a part to play, but the true champions and the true warriors survive. They find other elements of their make-up to improve on, adjust and adapt to whatever the demands are.”
Accordingly, O’Driscoll is being carefully managed back to match fitness and he sat out yesterday’s captain’s run training session at the Aviva, with Ulster’s Luke Marshall filling in ahead of a contest with Samoa that is expected to be extremely physical. That was not, said Kiss, a cause for alarm.
“Brian has played 120-odd Tests and he knows his body. He gives us the feedback and Jason [Cowman, strength and conditioning coach] and the medics are always keeping an eye on him and the GPS data and he keeps an eye on how he feels.
“Those decisions are come to from logic and how he feels about himself. He knows when he’s right and when he can run.
“There’s no smoke and mirrors behind this. He just felt it was right to sit out that run. He’s done his detail.
“We just tried a different combination for the captain’s run and we’ve a good team of people around us who help us make those decisions.”
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