Rugby legend Willie John McBride has affirmed Brian O’Driscoll as the best player ever to pull on a shirt for Ireland, after the centre played his last international at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Iconic centre O’Driscoll will retire from international rugby against France this Saturday as the most capped international player in the world, with 141 under his belt.
He will also extend his record Six Nations caps tally to 65 . The 35-year-old Leinster midfielder is Ireland’s leading try-scorer with 46, and tops the Six Nations all-time scoring charts with 26.
Last night legendary Ireland and British and Irish Lions player Willie John McBride paid tribute.
“He has certainly been the best player Ireland has ever had by a long way, even better than Jack Kyle or Mike Gibson,” he told the News Letter.
“In fact I would say he is the best player in the Northern hemisphere in this era.
“Not only has he been a great player but he is a tremendous professional. He is a great role model for all the younger guys.”
McBride noted that O’Driscoll’s endurance as a player has also been “outstanding” with 15 years at the top, surpassing his own amateur career by two years.
“Jack Kyle and Mike Gibson were tremendous in their day. But now the professional game is much bigger and more demanding.”
Out of all his accolades, he does not think it fair to say the centre did not do justice to himself with the Lions. McBride, capped 63 times for Ireland, was a key player in two of the most notable victorious Lions tours; pack leader in New Zealand in 1971 and captain of the unbeaten tour of South Africa in 1974.
“Sadly the year he was [Lions] captain they got him,” McBride laments of O’Driscoll. “Nothing was done about it, which annoyed me.”
He was speaking of 2005, when O’Driscoll – arguably at the peak of his powers – led the Lions to New Zealand but was stretchered off in the opening minutes of the first test after a dangerous tackle.
“In his first Lions tour he was outstanding,” added Mcbride.
Willie John also lamented O’Driscoll’s treatment during last year’s Lions tour, when he was dropped in the last test.
“He was treated disgracefully in Australia,” he said. “I would have tipped him for captain.”
As to how the centre’s abilities have endured, he admits his pace is not what it was.
“But he is now what, 35? In any case his work rate and skills are still tremendous.”
Looking forward, he notes that O’Driscoll’s rugby career is not over just yet.
“I just hope they can go on and finish with a victory in France,” he said. That would see the centre off with one last championship, he noted.