BRIAN O’DRISCOLL RETURNED to work yesterday for the first in a long line of ‘lasts’ this season.
Even if he looks on each outing as just another game, those who have been treated to watching him play will surely take mental note of each appearance.
‘The last time in Thomond Park’.
‘His last Six Nations game’.
‘His last visit to Rodney Parade’.
However, some of this sort of landmark may have already been quietly reached as Matt O’Connor today spoke of using the legendary centre sparingly through the Pro12 campaign with a view to preparing Ireland and Leinster for life without him in 2014.
Still, with retirement a viable option for O’Driscoll earlier this year, O’Connor is pleased just to have his influence in the squad even if he will not be asked to exert it on the field week in week out.
“I think we’re in a really good place with Brian in that he’s still in the environment,” O’Connor says.
“He’s still going to be playing for us. But if we manage his playing time, there is really scope for us to look at the succession plan of what Leinster and Ireland do beyond Brian O’Driscoll – which is a huge positive.”
The Australian added: “We won’t play him to death. We will try to get him right and try to get the best bang for our buck in that regard.”
Until O’Driscoll plays in a game of real magnitude the shadow of Warren Gatland’s decision in Sydney will loom large and O’Connor says the centre is eager to pick up the next gauntlet, wherever it may come.
“He doesn’t want that to be his legacy, he wants to perform for us, he wants to perform for Ireland and he wants to show, over the years, he has never been found wanting if there is a challenge thrown his way and I’m sure he’s looking to finish on a really big season both in a Leinster shirt and the national shirt.”
O’Driscoll is one man who won’t be up for consideration in O’Connor’s next decision at the province; captaincy. Today, the Australian declined to say that Leo Cullen would continue in the role he took over from O’Driscoll in 2008
However, there is no major reason to feel that Cullen – another former Leicester Tiger – will be stripped of the duty. Instead it seems the delay is simply a case of O’Connor taking his time to appoint a panel of players in leadership capacities.
“We haven’t made a firm decision on [the captaincy],” says the new coach. “We’ve spoke about it as a coaching group. We’ve had a couple of preliminary discussions with players about that leadership group and we will handle that decision in the coming weeks.”