Brian O’Driscoll was announced as Ireland captain for the November series yesterday. But, at the risk of commiting heresy, we must ask: is he the right man for the job? The answer is still a ‘yes’, but it’s worth taking some time to think through.
Time waits for no man, as they say, and just as the clock has ticked past the point where Ronan O’Gara should be an international selection, so too it will reach the point where BOD is no longer the best 13 in the country. That day may not necessarily coincide with the day the great man retires, and could even precede it. At some point the time may come when BOD has to be left out of the Ireland team.
It’s worth casting an eye over the form-book. BOD has played poorly in Leinster’s two Heineken Cup games this season. Against Exeter he was guilty of taking insufficient care of the ball, while against Scarlets he showed a rare moment of hesitancy in defence to allow Gareth Maule to skate in for a try. Going further back, he had a fairly indistinguished summer tour in a green shirt. Casting back slightly further, he did have a stellar Heineken Cup final, with his memorable break and offload to Sean O’Brien the highlight of the match. The old magic has not disappeared.
The alternatives for the position are Ulster’s Darren Cave and in particular Keith Earls, who played well there in the Six Nations and has made little secret of his desire to play in the 13 shirt and not on the wing. The pity of it is that Earls has been injured over the past fortnight, and has missed an opportunity to put huge pressure on O’Driscoll. He had started the season with great gusto.
Any pressure is further diluted by Rob Kearney’s absence, which is likely to see Earls deployed at full-back in any case. Kearney is close to irreplaceable (particularly keeping in mind the nature of Ireland’s opponents in this series), so taking another of Ireland’s totems out of the backline would leave Ireland looking a bit callow in that division.
BOD is the greatest player ever to pull on the green jersey, and his experience, leadership, class and nose for the tryline should not be discarded lightly. He still has much to bring to test rugby, so long as his legs are functioning. Peter O’Reilly wrote that even dead, you could strap him to his horse and send him into the ranks of the enemy. But even the greatest of men should not be picked based on what they have achieved in the past. We endorse his selection as captain for this series, but he should not be considered an automatic selection. Thirteenwatch has not gone away just yet.