O'Driscoll moves closer to lucrative Biarritz switch

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The Independent Online

The 26-year-old Dubliner is currently recovering from the severe shoulder dislocation he suffered in questionable fashion during the opening seconds of the British and Irish Lions' opening Test with New Zealand in Christchurch last June - an injury that forced the abandonment of his hopes and dreams of being the first Lions captain to emulate another centre, the Welshman John Dawes, in prevailing over the All Blacks.

Although his father, Frank, who acts as his business manager, insisted O'Driscoll had travelled to Biarritz for a family holiday, the player made no bones about his desire to play in France, when his present contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union expires in nine months' time.

"I've never hidden the fact that at some stage, I would like to play in France," he said, after being shown on French television in the company of Marcel Martin, the former president of the French Federation, and two of the Biarritz hierarchy, Serge Blanco and Patrice Lagisquet. "Would I want to play here? Why not? I like the Biarritz brand of rugby, I like the place and I like the atmosphere. I will have to make a decision next summer and when I do so, it will be for lifestyle reasons, not just financial ones."

The leading French teams - Toulouse, Clermont Auvergne and Perpignan, as well as Biarritz and Stade Français - wield far greater financial clout than their counterparts in the English Premiership, many of whom also covet O'Driscoll's services. Once noted for the insularity of their approach, the big five now measure their success in terms of Heineken Cup performance as well as the French championship.

Should O'Driscoll move to France from Leinster, the province he joined from Blackrock College in the late 1990s, the more ambitious Premiership clubs are certain to press for a relaxation of the £2m salary cap now in force. Increasingly, leading players from the Celtic nations are rejecting overtures from England in favour of a stint in France. Gareth Thomas, the Wales captain, and Stephen Jones, the Welsh outside-half, turn out for Toulouse and Clermont Auvergne respectively.

The Wales and Lions wing Shane Williams faces at least a month of enforced inactivity after failing to recover from a groin injury. Williams has not played for the Ospreys since returning from New Zealand in July and is now struggling to make the cut for his country's meeting with the All Blacks in Cardiff on 5 November - the first match in the tourists' bid for a first Grand Slam of the four home nations since 1978.

Williams is the sixth member of Mike Ruddock's squad to be forced out of action by a groin problem. Gavin Henson, a fellow Osprey, is similarly affected.

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