O'Driscoll stays with Leinster and Ireland

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The Independent Online

Brian O'Driscoll has not played a game of rugby - or, indeed, a game of anything more demanding than Scrabble - since he was dropped on his shoulder from a considerable height by a couple of errant All Blacks in Christchurch last summer. Yet despite his long bout of enforced inactivity, he remains the most talked-about sportsman in Ireland with the single exception of Roy Keane, who probably considers himself more dumped upon than dump-tackled. Yesterday, when O'Driscoll ended months of speculation about a move to France by agreeing fresh terms with his province, Leinster, and his country, the reaction in the Emerald Isle bordered on the joyous.

The national captain, generally regarded as the finest Irish centre since Mike Gibson, had been popularly linked with a lucrative move to Biarritz, one of a handful of French clubs for whom money is no object. This gloomy supposition was reinforced when the 26-year-old Dubliner suddenly materialised in the Basque country in September, when Stade Français were in town for a big championship match. He was introduced to the local crowd, interviewed by breathless television reporters and, when pushed, admitted that a spell in France had more than its fair share of attractions.

Not attractive enough, though, at this precise juncture. O'Driscoll will continue to parade his talents in Ireland until the end of the World Cup in 2007, by which time he is likely to be worth substantially more than at present. That prospect will make a few eyes water in the inner sanctum of the Irish Rugby Football Union, who can barely afford him as it is, but the committee men at Lansdowne Road can at least take heart from not having to cross the bridge immediately.

"My desire from the beginning of the season has always been to play for Leinster and Ireland," O'Driscoll said yesterday, forgetting the seductive noises he made in Biarritz less than four months ago. "I am thrilled to stay within the current set-up."

The union's chief executive, Philip Browne, shared in the delight. "It is the ongoing determination of the IRFU to keep leading players at home and manage their welfare," he 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. It is a testament to both Brian and the structures in place at provincial and international level that he has chosen to remain in Ireland."

Those structures do not impress everyone; indeed, there is a widespread notion that Ireland's home-based players, who make up the vast majority of the élite squad, do not have a sufficiently demanding fixture list to maximise their potential, either as individuals or as a group. It will be a surprise of major proportions if O'Driscoll does not head into the wide blue yonder once his World Cup business is done and dusted.