Brian O’Driscoll said it was ‘incredibly special’ to be able to finish his 15-year Ireland career on a high in Paris last night.
Brian O’Driscoll leaves the international stage with a second Six Nations winners’ medal – 14 years after spearheading Ireland’s last win in Paris.
Long after the final whistle had gone, as he was asked to sum up his feelings, the veteran centre was still wearing the number 13 jersey he has made famous.
“Just sheer delight,” he told reporters at a specially-arranged press conference. “I played on for one more year hopeful to get a victory against the All Blacks – that didn’t happen – and to win a Six Nations. And that did happen. So you can’t have it all but you take the bits that you get.
“It’s been a fantastic Six Nations for us. I’ve enjoyed every second and whatever it is – 45 minutes, an hour after the game – I don’t really want to take this jersey off yet because I know when I take it off that it will be the last time.
“It will be weird if I put it on at home and started walking around in it, so I’m kind of dragging the arse out of it a little bit!”
O’Driscoll said it was fitting that he had ended his Ireland career at the Stade de France, where he scored a stunning hat-trick of tries in Ireland’s only other victory on French soil in the past 42 years.
“Obviously I have lots of good memories in between,” he said. “But to have had 2000 and our first victory there in 28 years and then not having won since then, to finish up here 14 years later is incredibly special.
“Not many people get to finish their career on their own terms and certainly not with high emotions like there have been today.
“So I feel very fortunate and thankful that I’m part of a great, great team that has massive potential to go on and do more special things.”
It was a fairytale ending for O’Driscoll, although it looked like the night might become even more special when the 35-year-old homed in on the French try-line in the second half.
But when he was held up by Maxime Médard and Brice Dulin, Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton combined to set up Ireland’s crucial third try of the night, scored by the out-half.
“I thought I might get in,” O’Driscoll revealed. “In fairness…Dulin defended it brilliantly. He stayed off, stayed off.
“And then I knew I didn’t have the gas to burn him on the outside so I tried to check back in and Médard got back. Then I tried to offload it but it just jammed on me.
“So, there was a realisation that we’d severed their line and we just need to play a phase or two and score. I think Paul picked and jammed, then Conor ran across and Jonno picked a great line.”
With just over a minute to go, it looked like O’Driscoll would be denied the perfect send-off when France’s Damien Chouly crossed in the corner.
Unlike many nervous Irish fans who were watching, however, O’Driscoll said the team were confident the score would be chalked off.
He revealed that they were already discussing their strategy while the action was being reviewed on video.
“I think we had a fair idea that the ball had gone forward so it was about scrumming. Scrum first is our mentality – flankers included. It’s not a tight-five scrummaging unit that we have, it’s an all-eight scrummaging unit. So we knew that they were going to go after us.
“They managed to turn us over but I think you could see the resolve in the guys that when we did turn it over that we weren’t going to give them any opportunity.
“I could see people lining up to block down Brice Dulin who was in the pocket for a drop goal and they never got the opportunity because of our choke defence.
“I don’t think you have all that much time to talk about things. You just have to react and trust your instincts and thankfully they came good for us today.”
O’Driscoll said he was thankful that – unlike his team-mates – he would not have to review what was ‘far from a perfect performance’ on video.
He admitted to getting a frog in his throat soon after the game ended but he was relieved to have been able to keep his emotions in check for the good of the team.
“I think I tried to channel the emotions into the performance. I played fair today. You can’t allow the occasion to get the better of you,” he continued.
“You have to try and make sure that you’re able to be the cog in the wheel for the team. And that’s what I tried to do.
“It’s a lovely way to be able to finish out in this jersey. I’ve had so much fun over the last 15 years. I feel very grateful to be able to finish on this real high.”