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Wednesday, December 14, 2005


O'Driscoll opts to stick with home comforts

By David Hands Rugby Correspondent


THE lure of life outside Dublin is not for Brian O’Driscoll yet. The Ireland captain, who hopes to make his return to action during the week after Christmas, has agreed a new contract with the Irish RFU (IRFU) that will keep him at home until after the 2007 World Cup.

Although he has not played rugby since dislocating a shoulder in the opening moments of the first international between the Lions and New Zealand in Christchurch on June 25, O’Driscoll has been courted by clubs from England and France. Indeed, on a visit to Biarritz in September, he spoke openly (and probably tactfully) of his enjoyment of French rugby, but his loyalty remains with Leinster Lions for now.

This is a significant agreement for the IRFU. It has been at pains to try and keep its leading players based in the country, but, during the summer, it lost Shane Byrne, the experienced hooker, to Saracens, Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings to Leicester, David Quinlan to Northampton and Peter Bracken and Eoin Reddan to London Wasps. O’Driscoll, the IRFU’s one player of undoubted world class, enjoys iconic status and, wherever he goes, will draw crowds.

“It is the ongoing determination of the IRFU, where possible, to keep the leading players at home and manage their welfare,” Philip Browne, the union’s chief executive, said. “It is, therefore, most pleasing to see that a player of Brian’s standing in the game has committed himself to both club and country.” The extension of his present contract, which runs out in June, is for a further 16 months and, so far as Leinster are concerned, covers only the 2006-07 season.

O’Driscoll has made 59 appearances at centre for Ireland since his debut in 1999 and been on two Lions tours, the second as captain, even though last summer’s visit to New Zealand represented a desperately disappointing experience. But he will be only 28 when the 2007 World Cup in France concludes and, given good fortune with injury, will have several productive years ahead of him.

The Irish playing structure does not make the same physical demands as that of England or France, but it will still have cost the union a substantial sum — about €500,000 (£337,000) was being bandied around — to keep a player whose commercial earning capacity would be markedly bigger were he based in England. “My desire from the beginning of this season has always been to play for Leinster and Ireland and I am thrilled to remain within the current set-up,” O’Driscoll said.

Three months ago, though, he admitted that, at some stage, he would like to “experience a new lifestyle and a different culture” and the post-World Cup period might offer that opportunity. His first task is to demonstrate his fitness to play at the highest level, possibly for Leinster in the Celtic League match against Ulster in Belfast on December 26, but, more likely, the New Year’s Eve match against Munster at the Royal Dublin Showground.

One player who has sampled the lifestyle in France is Stephen Jones, who hopes to return to action for Clermont-Auvergne against Stade Français in the Heineken Cup on Saturday. Jones, the Wales and Lions fly half, missed last week’s meeting of the two clubs because of an ankle injury.

Olivier Azam, of Gloucester, will be out for 12 weeks after an operation to his left shoulder. The France hooker has made only four Guinness Premiership appearances for his club this season. Carlos Spencer, the Northampton fly half, will miss Friday’s European Challenge Cup match against Narbonne after injuring a hand, which gives Luke Myring, 21, a rare opportunity.
Howzit Boertjie

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Jes OO

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How old is BOD?  
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