Wednesday, November 08, 2006

BOD Blesses Leinster

In the lexicon of sportswriting the phrase "major boost" is rivalled only its overusage by the likes of "much-maligned", "early doors" and such kinetic verbs as "poised", "issued" (as in the issuance of a "come and get me plea") and "set" (as in being set to"launch a major transfer bid.").

Goal-shy strikers who recover from slight ankle knocks are said to provide their managers with a "major boost"; likewise chairmen who "issue" said managers with votes of confidence.

The point of all this is to put into context just how much of a "major boost" to Leinster rugby the announcement of Brian O'Driscoll's new contract extension - which will keep him with the province until 2011 - is. That is to say, an extremely major one.

No-one reading these pages needs to be told about the attributes the world's greatest centre possesses. And if they do, can I just say a big welcome to our readers in Krygzystan.

O'Driscoll seems to have inhabited the Irish rugby firmament for so long now that it is surprising to note that he will not celebrate his 28th birthday until next January. Like many sportsmen who emerge seemingly fully-formed onto the international stage, as O'Driscoll did as a 21-year old in the 1999 Australian tour, and more memorably in the following season's victory over France in Paris in which he scored a hat-trick of tries, he seems ageless.

Of course he has improved immeasurably in that time, particularly his physical strength and in his formidable rucking ability, but because he was so good when he arrived on the scene, he seems to have been around forever.

Which is precisely why it would have been such a huge blow to Leinster had he decided, after the expiration of his current contract next year, to pursue his oft-stated desire to play and live in France.

Shortly before the start of last season, O'Driscoll was photographed enjoying the hospitality of the Biarritz club at a French league match in the Parc des Sports Aguilera. Relaxed and sunny of disposition, the photo opportunity was construed as a statement of the Irish captain's intentions come the end of his existing IRFU contract. O'Driscoll himself dismissed the visit as merely a close season holiday (he was recovering from the shoulder injury received in the infamous 'spear'-tackle incident during that summer's Lions tour) and the acceptance of the French club's invitation to attend as a guest.

Anyone with O'Driscoll's PR nous - being possibly Ireland's most recognisable and high-profile sportsperson - would, of course, have understood, however, the power of what his presence in Biarritz suggested. Furthermore the player frequently commented on his approbation for the French 'lifestyle' and allowed the impression of his itchy feet to build.

The announcement then that the Leinster and Ireland centre has agreed a new contract with the IRFU and Leinster is indeed a major fillip, or indeed relief, for Leinster. Not only will the province have his skills on the field to call on as they attempt to emulate Munster's achievements, but the player also represents a major weapon in the promotion of the Leinster brand, both in terms of simply putting bums on seats and also in the province's contined attempt to create a powerful identity to rival that of that of the cult to their south.

O'Driscoll's decision to stay on is a vindication as well of the progress made by the province under Michael Cheika and David Knox's stewardship, and of the potential in the camp for future success.

For the ordinary Irish rugby fan, the retention of one of the world's greatest players to continue to play his domestic rugby here is also great news. We are not so well-served for performers of O'Driscoll's international class that his leaving would not have been a huge loss.

Of course, perhaps most boosted by this news will be the bank balance of the man in question, given how craftily he played the negotiations, in particular in allowing the mystery over his future plans to leverage his case. One assumes that he will prove, over the next five years, worth every penny.


Anonymous Alan said...

Quite right Tom. His staying, although obviously on his own superb, extravagent terms, has to seen as both a geniune statement of intent from the IRFU and as a sign that he, as the best centre in the world, thinks that the best place for him to show his abilities for the rest of his career is at home. BOD is the one and only player in the Northern hemisphere in a position to negotiate any deal he wants, with any team team he wants, anywhere in the world. He has chosen Leinster and Ireland. Good news all round.

9:10 p.m.  

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