LONDON (AP) — Brian O'Driscoll struck fear into the whole of Ireland this week by hinting he could soon be announcing his retirement from international rugby.
On Saturday's evidence, it's easy to see why. Aged 34, the greatest player to have donned the green and white jersey summoned yet another courageous, inspired and try-scoring display from his battered body in a 30-22 win over Wales at the start of his 14th — and possibly final — Six Nations campaign.
The performance made a mockery of those doubting his credentials for a place in the British and Irish Lions squad for the upcoming tour of Australia, with Wales center Jonathan Davies — seen as one of O'Driscoll's top rivals for a place on the squad — completely upstaged. That Lions coach Warren Gatland was in the crowd at Millennium Stadium made it all the more sweet.
It also perhaps justified coach Declan Kidney's controversial decision to relieve O'Driscoll of the team captaincy to allow him to concentrate on his own game. "With Brian, it is just a privilege to be working with him," Kidney said.
"He led in the same way as he's always been doing." O'Driscoll's struggles with injuries over the past 18 months led him to doubt whether he would playing for Ireland this time next year. Frustration at losing the armband to Jamie Heaslip may also have had something to do with it.
"There's a strong possibility it could be my last (Six Nations)," he said in the lead-up to the Wales game. Yet, the O'Driscoll on show at Millennium Stadium could have been the same O'Driscoll who scored a hat trick of tries away to France in the 2000 Six Nations, when he announced himself on the international stage. Or the same O'Driscoll who made such an impact in his first Lions tour, back in 2001 in Australia.
A stunning one-handed offload to Simon Zebo gave Ireland its first try against Wales, and he dived over from close range at the start of the second half to extend his all-time record of tries for Ireland to 46 in what was his 120th test for his country.
By that time, his head was swathed in a bandage and he later mucked in with the defensive work to ensure Ireland held on for victory. He left the stadium with blood coating his nose and stitches in his left ear.
"That man O'Driscoll!" Wales defense coach Shaun Edwards said. "I thought he was the difference between the two teams. I wish they'd left him in Ireland." It was no surprise that O'Driscoll was named man of the match.
"They are few and far between these days, but when they're there you enjoy them," said a typically modest O'Driscoll. "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."
British bookmakers immediately made O'Driscoll favorite to captain the Lions in Australia. That tour could yet prove to be his international swansong, much to the dread of Ireland. "Brian will make up his own mind," Kidney said. "I would not like to sway him one way over the other.
"The bottom line is you would love to have the guy around forever, wouldn't you?"