Team-mates, coaches and opponents, both past and present, and fellow rugby greats have been paying tribute to Brian O’Driscoll, who will play in his last home international match for Ireland against Italy on Saturday.
The occasion of his 140th international cap will be all the more memorable as Brian O’Driscoll will also be setting a new world record as the most-capped player in Test rugby history.
O’Driscoll’s 132nd appearance for Ireland, coupled with his eight Test outings with the Lions, will see him overtake former Australia scrum half George Gregan (139 Tests).
It will be the centre’s 64th Championship appearance – another new record, surpassing Ronan O’Gara’s 63-match run.
And most notably for the 51,000-strong Aviva Stadium crowd, the game marks O’Driscoll’s final appearance in green on home soil before he retires from rugby.
Listed below are some of the personal tributes to the 35-year-old from the rugby world –
JOE SCHMIDT (current Ireland head coach): Brian will want to finish in front of his home crowd with a fitting performance, one based on what he has provided for Ireland for the past 15-odd years.
What he has done in Test rugby, nobody else in Test rugby has ever done. He was just a fresh-faced little kid in a jersey that looked like it belonged to John Hayes when he scored three tries against France some 14 years ago.
It’s incredible to see where he’s come from, where he’s got to.
PAUL O’CONNELL (current Ireland captain): Any team that takes the field with Brian always feels it has a chance of winning. What he does on the pitch is just incredible.
Your best attacker isn’t necessarily your best defender but Brian is. He’s a fantastic attacking player but also an incredible defender, an incredible poacher.
Brilliant at the ruck, great work ethic, a very unselfish player – and a very understated and quiet guy behind it all.
It’s his leadership, his competitiveness, his defence, his tackling, his attack. He’s broken the mould but I think that is a mould other players look at now and want to fill themselves.
They want to be like him and if you look at Johnny (Sexton) now at out-half, he has all Brian’s attributes. Incredible skill, incredible competitor, brilliant defender and a great kicking game.
You have to wonder has that come about from playing alongside Brian for so long and seeing how Brian carries himself.
GORDON D’ARCY (long-time Ireland centre partner): Brian would be the first to push the attention away and remind you that it is a team game. But there’ll certainly be an acknowledgment and awareness of his achievement.
I’ve had the best seat in the house playing alongside him with Leinster and Ireland. With Brian you know that he won’t just make the right decision, but he’ll excel in the execution of it. Whether it’s a well-timed pass, a tackle or poaching a ball, he’ll do it phenomenally well.
Some people might have crumbled under the attention he has had for a decade and more, ut it has only brought out the best in Brian.
He has unshakeable self belief, but he’s also very humble. He has built a relationship with everybody in and around the Ireland and Leinster squads.
He’ll be an extremely hard act to follow. You can’t replace somebody like Brian.
EDDIE O’SULLIVAN (former Ireland head coach): Brian’s the greatest rugby player of all-time, not just the greatest Irish player. The level of performance throughout his career has just been extraordinary.
The 2009 Grand Slam saw him at his best. It’s fair to say Ireland could have lost three of their matches without him.
And I still think back to Croke Park in 2007: if he had played against France, we would have beaten them and won another Grand Slam.
JACK KYLE (1948 Grand Slam winner): I still have the photograph shaking hands with Brian after the 2009 Grand Slam in Cardiff. It’s a lovely memory.
He’s a man who has made a tremendous difference. His feet always impressed, the way he moves over the ground, and he has wonderful anticipation to be in the right place at the right time.
It’s amazing he’s survived this long, I’m told 40% of professional players have to stop because of injury.
RONAN O’GARA (former Ireland out-half): I know Brian very well, and I don’t look upon him as a rugby player – he’s a great friend of mine. I’ve special memories of playing with Brian, some of them are public and most of them are private because that’s the way I want it to be.
He’s a great friend of mine, he’s a top class fella and I’ve so much time for him.
The most important thing for people to remember is that it’s a happy occasion (on Saturday), he doesn’t have a serious injury or illness. Sometimes when a player retires people go into mourning.
But this is a celebration of our greatest ever player and it should be a happy day, that’s the most important thing. It’s an occasion for people to bring their kids to and make it a family occasion and say well done Brian.
KEVIN MAGGS (former Ireland centre partner): Brian has broken all the records for lots of different reasons but the main reason is he is professional. He looks after himself and is just a quality player.
You can’t take anything away from him. He deserves all the accolades because he certainly puts the work in.
We played a lot together, we’re good friends and still keep in contact. Those sort of memories you just can’t put a price on.
OLLIE CAMPBELL (former Ireland out-half): Brian has been the iconic figure of Irish sport for 15 years, performing feats of unprecedented and consistent brilliance all over the world to give us an archive of unforgettable and treasured memories that will be etched on our minds for the rest of our lives.
He’s the perfect role model whose name is a byword for excellence, commitment, passion, courage, integrity, dignity and sportsmanship.
His true greatness, profound influence on rugby and his legacy will only become fully apparent in the years to come.
MATT O’CONNOR (current Leinster head coach): I’ve been lucky to coach some exceptional players, but Brian is certainly a stand-out of his generation. He has been a consummate professional and a joy to work with.
He inspires all around him and is generous with his time, always offering advice when needed.
It’s a massive understatement to say he will be missed but there is plenty of rugby to be played between now and his swansong – and I know that Brian isn’t even thinking about putting the feet up yet.
RORY BEST (current Ireland hooker): He just has this aura about him. When you see tweets from him talking to George Gregan and Richie McCaw like they’re friends, that shows the regard he is held in world rugby.
We’re very, very lucky that he is Irish and it will be a massive void to fill. He’s somebody that just wants to win that much and has that much skill. Unfortunately they don’t grow on trees.
Number 13 is an opening that hasn’t been there for 15 years. It’s going to be tough to fill that jersey.
GEORGE GREGAN (former record holder and Australia scrum half): Records are there to be broken and it couldn’t go to a better rugby player, because Brian lives and breathes it every time he plays.
It (the achievement) embodies the sort of person he is. He is so competitive and extremely resilient, and has come back from many injuries.
He just wants to get out there and compete and when he competes he does it at a very high level.
There is a certain level you expect from Brian when he plays and he is never far off that, and that’s what great players do.
MATT WILLIAMS (former Leinster head coach): Alongside David Campese, Brian is the greatest player I’ve coached. Alongside Mark Ella, he’s the best I’ve seen.
A fearless tackler and a dynamic contester for the ball, he has lightning speed over 15 metres with a devastating step off both feet.
He worked harder at training than any player I’ve ever coached. He’s a world class leader and captain.
Despite his fame, Brian has kept his sense of perspective on life and remains the humble, funny and friendly young man I first met in 1999. We will never see the likes of him again.
JAMIE HEASLIP (current Ireland number 8): He’s given so much for Ireland and for his team-mates, and I’ve been lucky enough to be his team-mate for the last eight years.
So I feel extremely privileged to have been able to play so many games with him. But it’s weird, there’s no talk of it amongst the players.
He’s approaching it like any other game, and to be honest that’s what you really expect from a man of his calibre.
It might be a bit emotional for him, but he’s been in a lot of games like this where it’s potentially his last game at home. For us it’s not an issue, and for him I can’t imagine it would be either.
He looks as sharp as ever: he’s as focused as ever, he knows exactly what he’s doing. There’s still a lot to be playing for, and that’s what we’ve got to focus on now.
DAVID CAMPESE (former Australia winger): Brian O’Driscoll has been an absolutely fantastic player over the last 15 years. If you look at the greats, he is right up there – his vision, his great skills, his enthusiasm and I think he’s been a great leader for Ireland.
He’s one of those rugby ambassadors that will go on forever. The kids like those sort of people, they look up to Brian and I think that’s the future of the young kids in Ireland, to be like Brian O’Driscoll.
ALAIN ROLLAND (former Leinster scrum half/IRFU international referee): I’d love to have refereed a game he would have been involved in. It would have been nice, but it was impossible (as he is Ireland and Leinster).
He’s incredible, the greatest player we have ever had. Just look at the figures of the amount of games he has played. It’s testament to the individual and the man that he is.
IAN MCGEECHAN (former British & Irish Lions head coach): That they (New Zealand) targeted him like that (during the 2005 Lions tour) showed how much they feared and respected him.
Brian’s been as good a centre as any ever produced by Britain and Ireland. He was the first outside centre to attack the breakdown area, where he was as good as any back row forward.
He was great to coach. He was clear about his own game, but always wanted to learn and to help other players develop.
NIGEL OWENS (Saturday’s match referee): When you mention Brian O’Driscoll’s name as a great player and a legend of the game, it’s totally justified.
There’s not many great players in the world. There’s even less great players who are great people as well, and he is one of them – a great player but also a good man off the field.
It was quite different when you refereed Ireland and he was the captain. When I went into the changing rooms to do the boots and stuff, he’d come along and say, ‘alright Nigel, I’m the captain. Anything to do with the forwards, Paul (O’Connell) will sort it with you but if you need me then give me a shout’.
I used to tell him, ‘well if I do need you, you know there’s going to be trouble. Otherwise, I’ll sort it out here!’
Because you’re concentrating on the game so much as a referee, you tend to be oblivious to what’s happening around you, how great the game is or somebody’s performance in the game.
Only a couple of times has that happened to me, one of them was Bath against Leinster. Brian O’Driscoll just played out of this world, he got a few turnovers, he created a few tries and scored a few as well.
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