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Farewell game for Irish rugby star

Saturday, March 15, 2014

PARIS - Brian O'Driscoll likes to keep his emotions in check but even he will find those difficult to control when arguably Ireland's greatest ever rugby player brings down the curtain on his international career in Paris early tomorrow morning.

The 35-year-old centre has won three European Cups with Leinster, captained Ireland to only their second Five/Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009 and three other Triple Crowns.

He has a world record 140 caps (including eight British and Irish Lions Tests) and holds the Five/Six Nations try record with 26, having broken a 78-year-old record in March 2011.

The many highs have also been countered by many lows.

He will retire having never threatened to land the highest honour in team rugby, the World Cup — with the 2007 edition the nadir when a shambolic team seen at the outset as dark horses exited at the group stage.

Injuries robbed him of some crucial matches, especially the serious shoulder injury he suffered after the spear tackle on him in the opening minute of the first Lions test with the All Blacks in 2005 — the second of his four British and Irish Lions tours — when he was captain.

Indeed the Lions was never to prove a happy hunting ground for him as on his fourth tour he suffered the ignominy of being dropped by Warren Gatland - the man who gave him his international debut in 1999 when he was Ireland coach - for last year's decisive third and final Test against Australia.

While the Lions won the game and on the face of it justified Gatland's selection, the hurt and anger it provoked in O'Driscoll was evident.

"Yes, there's resentment, of course," O'Driscoll said. "Is he (Gatland) on the Christmas card list? Unlikely.

"When you're left with disappointment that way, you can't but feel a little bit of resentment."

However, for teammates and opponents alike there is no doubting his supremely gifted talent.

"He is like a UFO, he is from another planet," said former France scrum-half and now Toulouse backs coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, who faced him on several occasions.

For "BOD", as he is affectionately known in his homeland and whose biography was titled 'In BOD we trust', it is appropriate that his international career should come to an end at the Stade de France.

For it was there that he announced his truly great talent in a 2000 Six Nations clash.

With the stadium bathed in sunshine, O'Driscoll scored a hat-trick of tries for Ireland's first win in the City of Light in 28 years.

The fact it came the day after Ireland's national holiday St Patrick's Day only added to the aura already building around the good looking, erudite and public relations officer's dream.

Present Ireland handler Joe Schmidt benefited enormously from O'Driscoll's talent when he coached Leinster, where they combined for two European Cup wins and a European Challenge title to boot.

"He's creative, courageous, and has a bit of magic. In these days of big centres, perhaps he's the final bastion for smaller centres," opined Schmidt.

Aside from what seems sure to be a flood of job offers, retirement from the international scene will allow O'Driscoll, son of two doctors and who has two sisters, to spend more time with his Irish actress wife Amy and his one year-old daughter Sadie.

Great people, whether sportsmen or politicians, sometimes lose sight of when is a good time to retire from the spotlight, but O'Driscoll made clear a few years ago that he would not fall into that trap.

"Once the tingle leaves you, it is time to hang up your boots," he said.

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