Rugby scribes around the glode worked their keyboards in to a frenzy earlier this week, with the news that Brian O’Driscoll would consider a stint in the Super XV.
O’Driscoll’s comments follow the appointment of former Leinster coach Michael Cheika to the coaching team at the Sydney-based Waratahs.
Following the revelation, prominent Australian site ‘Fox Sports News’ commented that the signing of O’Driscoll “would be on a par with the Waratahs’ new neighbour, Sydney FC recruit Alessandro Del Piero.
Now hold up a minute!
I realise that this statement didn’t come from O’Driscoll’s lips, but footballing star Del Piero’s move to the A-League surely can’t be likened to O’Driscoll entering the Super Rugby arena!
Del Piero has done what many sporting legends do as their career winds-down – chased one last pay-day with a stint in a competition which, in his hay-day, he would never have dreamed of gracing. I hope that’s not what O’Driscoll is envisaging.
Of course, Rugby players do exactly what Del Piero has done, heading off to Japan for a season or two, a stint in Italy or the French Second Division perhaps. But O’Driscoll is considering a move to what is, unquestionably, the toughest rugby competition in the world.
Contracted with Leinster until mid-2013, it would be 2014 before O’Driscoll would be free to pursue his Super Rugby dream, putting him firmly in the mid-30s catergory. And let’s be honest, as a player who has never taken a backward step in an illustrious professional career, his body is already battered and battle-weary. Could he really hope to compete at the top level, week in, week out, against the might of South Africa and New Zealand, or will we end up drawing comparisons between other sporting icons like Muhammed Ali or Michael Schummacher, who competed well past their genuine used-by-date and did nothing but damage their stella reputations?
I’m not sure what O’Driscoll would have to gain from a move to the Waratahs anyway. He’ll be part of a side which consistently underperforms, in a pool which is clearly the weakest of the three in the Super XV’s current format, playing at a time in his career when his best days are almost certainly behind him. At the moment, O’Driscoll could let the lights dim on his sterling career, and, in years to come, as he sits on his favourtie rocking chair in front of a roaring fire, smoking his pipe and recanting tales of his glory days, he’ll always be able to say “well, you know, I would have dominated that Southern Hemisphere competition.”
But if he does head for the ‘Tahs, he may well be in for a rude awakening. Is a season being smashed by those brutal South African forwards or constantly chasing after New Zealand’s slick backs really the way a champion wants to end his career? What if someone blows him out of a ruck ‘too hard’ and hurts his poor shoulder again, a-la Tana Umaga in that infamous first Lions test of ’05? What if he simply fails to fire, and is forced to face the fact that, while he dominated the European competition, the Super XV, where the world’s best players do battle each and every week, is a completely different level, and of a far higher standard?
O’Driscoll will more than likely go on to be regarded as the greatest Irish player to ever pull on the green jersey, and personally I can’t see why he’d want to tarnish that hard-fought image by throwing himself at the mercy of fitter, younger, hungrier players, just so he can tick ‘Play Super Rugby’ off his bucket list.
In no way am I suggesting he doesn’t deserve the accolades he receives. But I feel a move to Sydney would be a mistake for O’Driscoll, and I think if he goes he’ll end up wishing he’d finish his career as a dominant figure in European Rugby, rather than a ‘bit-player’ in an average Australian side.