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Contenders Line Up To Replace ‘Magic Man’ O’Driscoll

Contenders Line Up To Replace ‘Magic Man’ O’Driscoll

How do you go about replacing a player of the calibre of Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland’s record try scorer and the most-capped player in Irish, Six Nations and world rugby history? That is the task facing head coach Joe Schmidt, who dubbed him the ‘magic man’ in the aftermath of the 22-20 win over France.

The statistics reveal that Brian O’Driscoll was still as influential as ever in his final appearances for Ireland, emerging as the man-of-the-match against both Italy and France as the men in green secured Six Nations silverware.

The 35-year-old maintained his high standards right until the end, with Accenture – the Championship’s official technology partner – informing us that he provided two try assists, beat 11 defenders, made 33 carries for 174 metres, made 31 tackles and forced four jackal turnovers during his last ever Six Nations campaign.

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Fresh from guiding Ireland to their second Championship title in five years, head coach Joe Schmidt has revealed that replacing the retiring O’Driscoll has been a long-term project.

“To be honest (the search for Brian’s successor) started when I got the job, and he and I sat down and there were pretty clear parameters about how long he’d be available,” he said.

“We’ve certainly been watching players. I think both Robbie Henshaw and Darren Cave profited from the time they spent (in camp). Robbie was almost whistled in every week because we were very much patched together in that last game.

“There were some players who were started to creek. There were a few players who didn’t finish trainings in that week.

“It did make preparation a little bit difficult, but at the same time those players knew they would be physically able to play as long as we managed them during that week and thankfully that was the case.

“Obviously Robbie and Darren have been involved there. Guys like Luke Fitzgerald who might play there (in the centre) a little bit for Leinster and came on against the All Blacks and did a pretty good job considering he hadn’t been playing a lot of centre.

“Those sort of guys we’ll obviously keep an eye on. We’ve been doing that for the last nine months really, because we already knew that this day was coming.”

He added: “We’ve tried to bleed him (Brian) dry over the last six months – having him at camp, sitting down with Robbie and Darren and looking at video and then talking through things as we’ve done them.”

Ulster’s Jared Payne will also be Irish-qualified come the autumn, and he is another player who could step into O’Driscoll’s shoes at Test level.

“He would definitely be another guy who would be in the frame. He’s a class player, he’s an experienced player and he has a natural intuition on the field,” Schmidt said of the New Zealand-born Payne.

“He’s a very good decision maker and tends to be able to avoid the first tackle or beat the first tackle.

“And he’s a little bit flexible in where he plays on the field. He has played on the edge or at full-back. He plays a lot at full-back because Ulster tend to have Darren and Luke Marshall in the midfield usually.”

The Six Nations-winning boss enjoyed waking up on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day with a sense of satisfaction, admitting: “It was nice to know that we had got over the line (against France) and the job was done.”

Next up on the radar is Ireland’s summer tour to Argentina where they will play the Pumas in two Tests on June 7 and 14.

Asked about his thoughts on selection ahead of the South American trip, Schmidt explained: “You calculate it that way (that you need to rest guys and give others opportunities), or you can calculate that there’s 10 Test matches before we start the lead up to the World Cup (next year).

“I did anticipate that we would have probably used more players – and I thought that would have been natural attrition, that we would have used more than 18 starting players and 28, 29 in total through the Six Nations.

“You push that forward for the next 10 Test matches, if you do start leaving people out maybe you start to compromise that continuity that you’re trying to build. I guess that’s one of the questions we’ll ask of ourselves.

“The (provincial) teams are really well placed in the Heineken Cup and the PRO12. With those two things combined, we could have a number of players playing a lot of games at the end of the season and we may be better placed leaving some of those guys to have a rest.

“There’s some guys who haven’t played too much late who are looking pretty fresh.

“Guys like Stephen Ferris, Donnacha Ryan, Tommy Bowe, to name a few that look pretty fresh and just back. There’ll be some nice competition for places.”