Brian O’Driscoll may well continue with Leinster and Ireland for another season, despite widespread opinion that the Lions tour to Australia is shaping up as his last act on a rugby field.
I understand from sources close to the former Ireland captain that it’s by no means a done deal that this will be his last summer as a professional rugby player.
First there is the Joe Schmidt factor. My clear understanding is that O’Driscoll would have retired, despite having the hump with the way his Six Nations finished, in Rome, had there not been regime change. Just as Declan Kidney was finished with O’Driscoll as captain, so was the player finished with Kidney as coach.
The prospect of Schmidt getting the Ireland job would weigh in favour of keeping O’Driscoll on for another year. They have an excellent relationship and if everything else was right then they would be happy to crack on together.
Second there is the Lions. Warren Gatland’s attitude to the captaincy is that whoever wears the armband on tour may not automatically be wearing it when the team runs out in the three Tests. So he will pick his team for those contests and then consider who should lead. The tour captain may not be in the 22.
If Gatland is going down the power route then Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi will be his centre pairing, in which case he can select O’Driscoll as the tour leader bringing an unrivalled level of experience to the job.
I don’t know if O’Driscoll would consider that the ideal sign-off to his career but either way I’m pretty certain he doesn’t want what happened in Stadio Olimpico to have been his final act in green.
Third there is his physical wellbeing. There will be a price to be paid down the line for the brutal physicality of modern day professional rugby, where ‘bigger, faster, stronger’ is the primary pursuit in player development. O’Driscoll has taken a hammering in almost 15 seasons of Test rugby. When at the end of the Lions tour four years ago he started talking about Australia in 2013 I though he’d had his bell rung once too often. He’s had a few more dings since then, but comparatively this has been a low level season for him. Between injury and suspension he’s played 80 minutes only five times for Leinster (out of nine games) and three times for Ireland (out of five), albeit with two of those early international departures coming in the last 10 minutes.
So he’s probably been in worse nick. And if his body hasn’t quite fallen apart, and the coach he rates highest is closing in on the top job in the land, then maybe one more campaign is on the cards.