Tony Ward is the latest to run the “Brian O’Driscoll To 12” flag up to see if anybody salutes.
He writes that “it would make for a different playmaking role, but one to which he would be ideally suited at this stage of his career.”
Now, in the words of Kanye West, “Yo Tony, I’m really happy for you, and I’ma let you finish …” Actually, I’m not. Brian O’Driscoll has about the dodgiest shoulder in international rugby. Anybody who watched Ireland’s World Cup will have seen him protecting it throughout the tournament, with the exception of the game against Wales where he let absolutely everything hang out. That’s no criticism of Drico, he knows his body better than anybody and knows how to manage it to get the most out of himself in big games.
The idea that he move into the No12 jersey – with monsters like Jamie Roberts, Superstar Sunny-Bull Wull’yums, Ma’a Nonu, Mathieu Bastareaud, Frans Steyn, Yannick Jauzion et al running down his channel all day – is one of the least considered rugby notions I’ve read in the last while. Inside centre is probably the position with not just the most potential for head-on tackles, but the most in practice: huge, fast men running from depth at full-tilt and looking for contact. International rugby at inside centre is black-belt level bish bash bosh.
Grey Man Pat McCabe dislocated his shoulder twice in the World Cup making tackles at No12, for example, and he’s actually a little bigger than Drico – and younger, and less injury prone. Jamie Roberts made hay through Gordon D’Arcy in the quarter-final, and D’Arcy doesn’t have significant nerve damage or get a stinger every single time he takes the pitch.
Go to ESPN Scrum.com and look at the tackle count for inside centres in the stat-line. They’re almost invariably the highest in the backline. In Ireland’s 2011 Six Nations matches, D’Arcy was into double figures with his tackle-count in three games of five.
The idea that you move Drico in from the position he has played for the vast majority of his pro career to a position where you highlight his specific vulnerability and increase his chances of injury doesn’t stand up to even the briefest scrutiny, in the Mole’s opinion. It’s not as though there are a whole branch of Irish No13s beating down the door for selection in the provinces either: if anything, it’s No12 where the competition is fiercer.