What superlatives are there left to describe Brian O'Driscoll? In a captivating match on Saturday, the erstwhile captain was superb.
What superlatives are there left to describe Brian O'Driscoll? In a captivating Six Nations encounter on Saturday, the erstwhile Irish captain was mesmeric.
Having been controversially relieved of the captaincy, Ireland's most valuable player delivered the ultimate riposte to his coach. Saturday's Six Nations opener was a breathtaking game, played at a breakneck speed.
The chilling efficiency of Ireland's first-half performance was almost eclipsed in the second-half by a dynamic Welsh team, intent on completing the most spectacular comeback since Lazarus. But it was O'Driscoll who dominated Saturday's match. From the opening minutes when he smashed into the Welsh masses, to his sublime pass for Simon Zebo's try, to his leading of the defensive effort; O'Driscoll was at the epicentre of everything his team did well.
Clearly inspired by his demotion, Ireland's iconic centre proved his point in the most emphatic manner. At every stage of this pulsating game,
O'Drisoll's leadership skills were evident, not least in the crucial final quarter when 14-man Ireland were incredulously clinging onto to a game they should have wrapped up half an hour earlier.
Although no longer the nominal leader of this team, O'Driscoll remains its most essential and critical component. If he follows through on his hint to retire at the end of the season, he will leave an irreplaceable gap in Irish rugby. For the remaining duration of this championship, however, Ireland are in the enviable position of having two captains: namely new skipper Jamie Heaslip and the de facto captain, O'Driscoll.
It may be a well-worn clichÃ©, but this was the quintessential game of two halves. At the end of a thoroughly absorbing first half, Ireland fans must have thought they were dreaming. Having outplayed and dominated the Grand Slam champions throughout the first period, Ireland entered the interval 23-3 to the good. It was a scoreline that barely seemed plausible. But Ireland were well worth their lead. In fact, the visitors had dominated the opening period with a precise and clinical destruction of their Welsh hosts.
The performance bore all the hallmarks of a Declan Kidney team, and attested also to the influence of Anthony Foley in the coaching staff. For this was territorial, ruthless Munster rugby at its most efficient.
But the ability to convert pressure into points revolved around O'Driscoll. For it was the former captain who sliced though the Welsh cover in trademark fashion, before unleashing a perfectly timed pass to set Zebo up for the first try. Indeed for all the talk of Welsh creativity, it was Ireland's superstars who provided the cutting edge.
They may hail from different rugby generations, but Zebo and O'Driscoll are players who possess the ability to genuinely captivate. If this campaign does signify the swansong for O'Driscoll, at least we have witnessed the anointing of his successor as creative lynchpin. The champagne moment in the build-up to Cian Healy's try, when the Munster wing exhibited footballing skills Lionel Messi would have been proud of, will be gracing television replays for years to come. Ireland have unearthed another superstar.
If the first-half was good, the second was even better. When O'Driscoll characteristically touched down on 48 minutes to give Ireland a 30-3 advantage, a rout seemed inevitable.
But a Welsh comeback was always predictable. The Grand Slam champions should have been utterly demoralised at the beginning of the second-half. The hosts spent the majority of the second period demonstrating that nothing was further from the truth.
In a sensational reversal of fortunes, Wales's backs ran the Irish defence ragged. Wave after wave of Welsh attack started to find holes that hadn't hitherto existed. Ireland's cause wasn't aided by their indiscipline; with Rory Best and Conor Murray both subjected to needless spells in the sin-bin.
When Craig Mitchell scored on 76 minutes, Ireland were barely clinging onto their lead. Endless credit must go to Wales for refusing to yield, and salvaging some pride from a cause that had looked forlorn at half time.
Ireland's resolute defensive effort, therefore, was just as crucial to the outcome as the flair of the first half. In the context of this supreme rearguard effort, Sean O'Brien and O'Driscoll were simply immense. O'Brien's tackle count in particular bore witness to a monumental effort.
Despite drinking in the last chance saloon Kidney's selections were, on the main, justified. O'Mahony was excellent in the back-row, while Craig Gilroy had a more than creditable Six Nations' debut.
There will need to be changes for next week, however. England will assuredly target Ireland's set piece as they did at Twickenham last season. As such, Tom Court must come into the reckoning for a spot on the replacements bench for his scrummaging prowess. I also think Chris Henry offers the perfect counter-balance to the attritional English back row. England will themselves have been galvanised by their emphatic victory over Scotland.
As good as Ireland were on Saturday, they will need to be much better next week. For Declan Kidney and his squad such considerations can wait, however.
For now, it seems appropriate to bask in the glory of a magnificent Six Nations' win, accomplished as part of a quite thrilling game of rugby. The catalyst for this success was once again the talismanic Brian O'Driscoll. He may not be around for too much longer, but at least for the moment we can still marvel at the unparalleled genius of Ireland's greatest player.
By Rory McGimpsey