O'Driscoll hits his peak on top of the mountain

Brian O'Driscoll is arguably the world's pre-eminent player of the Noughties, and there would have been no argument had he not had his captaincy of the 2005 British and Irish Lions cut short by a brutally inflicted injury. Hurt physically and mentally by that dislocated shoulder at the hands of two All Blacks, he took a while to climb the mountain again.

Last night, by achieving a Grand-Slamming vindication of his lofty talent, the Ireland captain laid claim to a peerless peak. Four tries in five matches – the five wins which added up to a first Irish Slam in six decades – made this O'Driscoll's championship. A second Lions tour as leader surely beckons.

"It's a fantastic feeling," said O'Driscoll. "Looking your team-mates in the face knowing you gave it your all and won, that's pretty sweet." Once upon an epoch ago, when a prop called Chris Daly scored the try which won Ireland their only other clean sweep, he had his shirt ripped from his back in the celebrations in Belfast by what the staid BBC Radio commentator called "a seething mob". The mob mentality here belonged to Ireland's forceful pack of forwards led by Paul O'Connell and to their supporters singing "Fields of Athenry", chorus after never-ending chorus.

And always there was O'Driscoll. Though never the most vocal or volatile skipper, he had announced himself worldwide with three tries against France in Paris in 2000 and he has been the heart of Ireland's remarkable past 10 years: five times placed second in the championship (on each occasion one win shy of a Slam) and three Triple Crowns before this season.

In the 1990s they finished in the bottom two of the championship every year. This success belongs to the players and the coaches, led by the quiet, indefatigable former schoolteacher Declan Kidney, but also shrewd visionaries in the Irish Union who spent a few million quid bringing players home from English clubs to their provinces soon after the game went open. O'Driscoll's gifts cannot be bought; in the ultimate team game he stands apart for his appreciation of space and eye for the main chance. But he and his side did this the hard way.

The most marginal of trips by Ryan Jones was Wales's calling card to Ronan O'Gara. It was the signal for the most ruthless, obvious targeting of the hollow-cheeked No 10. Mike Phillips, then Ryan Jones, then Tom Shanklin ran hard down O'Gara's channel, battering him back. When O'Gara lay prone at a ruck, Phillips cuffed him around the ear. Ian Gough and Gavin Henson whistled a double tackle around O'Gara's ears like stereophonic hitmen.

The upshot was that though Ireland had plenty of ball, some of it through O'Connell's line-out pilfering, their backs were disrupted and O'Driscoll was reduced in the first half to one hurried forward pass to Luke Fitzgerald, who was sniffing a try at the corner.

What to do? Get your own back, of course. Ireland trailed 6-0 but they began the second half as if the first had never happened. Two quick tries came: first O'Driscoll – just as he did against England at Croke Park – applied an urgent, shuffling finish. There were millimetres in it but that is what the Dubliner scores over mere mortals.

Then O'Gara's chip-kick sent Tommy Bowe racing away. With two conversions from O'Gara's right boot he had played a mighty part in his side's 14-point turnaround. And he continued to do so, pinging kick after kick down the wing of Shane Williams, and finally with that joyous dropped goal. "You wouldn't have thought there was a nerve in the guy's body," said O'Driscoll admiringly.

The targeting of Williams outdid the hounding of O'Gara. Clever stuff by Ireland and a tribute to Kidney, who declared his principal concern on the eve of the Six Nations to be the miles he would clock up driving between his Cork home and the training base in Limerick. "I think I'll be drinking a lot of coffee," he said. Kidney, O'Driscoll and Ireland will wake up today to the sweet smell of success.

Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor