Paris: More than an hour after clinching his second Six Nations title, Brian O’Driscoll still wore his green jersey as the iconic Ireland centre tried to milk every moment back at the venue where his love affair with the championship really started.
“I can’t have it all but it’s the best you get, it has been a fantastic Six Nations for us,” O’Driscoll told a news conference following his last match for his country, a 22-20 victory over France that secured the title on points difference from England.
“I don’t want to take this jersey off yet.” In an Ireland career spanning 15 years, O’Driscoll played in four World Cups and won the Six Nations in 2009 and in 2014 and won the admiration from every teammate and opponent who shared a pitch with him.
“Obviously there are a lot of good memories in between but to have had 2000 and our first victory here in 28 years and not one since then and finishing it off here is incredibly special,” he said in reference to Ireland’s Paris triumph 14 years ago when he scored a hat-trick of tries.
“Not many people get to finish their career on their own terms. I feel very fortunate.” O’Driscoll has played a world record 141 tests for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions and though he finally tasted a Lions series triumph on his fourth tour in Australia last year, it was bitter-sweet as he was dropped for the final, series-winning test.
Back in the green of his homeland, however, it was all smiles on Saturday as O’Driscoll was bowed out with a second successive man of the match award — albeit one swayed heavily by emotion.
He had a good, though not outstanding game, though he did display glimpses of his usual power and flair, almost scoring his 27th Six Nations try as he made a dash towards the line early on, only to be tackled five metres from the line.
“I thought I might get in but Yohann [Huget] defended very well,” he said. Jonathan Sexton had followed up, however, and the move continued and produced Ireland’s third try.
The visitors froze a little in the final 10 minutes and were lucky that Jean-Marc Doussain missed a routine penalty and that Pascal Pape’s pass for a last-minute try was ruled forward.
“That was a far-from-perfect performance and the guys will review it — thankfully I won’t be part of it,” O’Driscoll said with a broad smile.
Shortly before kickoff, tributes to O’Driscoll from team mates were shown on the giant screen at the stadium, but he did not allow the emotions to ruin his farewell game.
“I tried to channel the emotions into the performance. I played fair today and you can’t allow the occasion to get the better of you,” he explained.
“You try to make sure you’re a cog on the wheel of the team. The emotions come after and they did and I’m sure there will be a few tears later on with multiple beers on board.” Former hooker and Ireland team mate Keith Wood thanked O’Driscoll for his services.
“He’s delivered for his country for 15 years and he’s been an icon for children throughout the country. They’ve seen that things are possible, that magic is possible and that winning is possible,” he said.
“He’s been grooming a couple of guys to come in and I don’t think they’ll suddenly fill his shoes but obviously their feet will grow,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt told a news conference.