Brian O’Driscoll will forever be a name etched in Guinness Six Nations folklore.
The Ireland behemoth enjoyed a scintillating Championship career, headlined by a memorable Grand Slam triumph in 2009 as the men in green ended a 61-year wait for the coveted clean sweep.
And with 133 caps for his country O’Driscoll sits at the top of the pile in appearances, with 65 coming in the Championship, while he also ran in a record 26 tries across 15 seasons between 2000 and 2014.
To celebrate the Six Nations’ 20th anniversary, you can form your Greatest XV on the Guinness Six Nations app and choose from more than 150 players.
As one of the most consistent, formidable and well-rounded centres the game has ever seen, few players can stake such a strong claim for a place in the Guinness Six Nations Greatest XV.
O’Driscoll was immersed in the sport from the day he was born, with his father’s cousin, John, putting that fabled surname on the rugby map after playing 26 times for Ireland.
A young Brian first plied his trade in Gaelic football before switching to rugby as a child, with a move to Blackrock College beckoning where he competed against his future midfield partner in crime – Gordon D’Arcy.
Under-19 representation for Ireland soon followed as O’Driscoll ascended the Leinster ranks, simultaneously graduating from University College Dublin as he marked himself out as a precocious, well-rounded talent on the Emerald Isle.
Thrilling Championship emergence
After bursting onto the scene at Leinster in 1999, O’Driscoll was awarded a maiden call-up to the Ireland squad that year and made his debut against Australia in Brisbane.
Ireland went down to a 46-10 defeat that day but O’Driscoll’s precocity continued to sparkle, as he prepared to make his Championship debut the following spring.
And it was on March 19, 2000, when a Guinness Six Nations legend was born.
After losing against England but beating Scotland and Italy – who only joined the Championship that year – Ireland arrived in the heat of the Stade de France in pursuit of a victory to keep their hopes of glory alive.
Paris is a city for romantics and O’Driscoll made Ireland fans fall in love that day, running in a thrilling hat-trick to help the visitors to a pulsating 27-25 triumph and their first in the French capital for 28 years.
Ireland could only muster a third-placed finish in the maiden Six Nations standings but O’Driscoll had captured the hearts of a nation, as his combination of daring, fearlessness and determination left Ireland fans dreaming of a glorious epoch ahead.
‘In BOD we trust’ and the makings of a talisman
O’Driscoll began rapidly marking himself out as an integral part of the Ireland machine, scoring in his solitary appearance in the 2001 Championship before being handed the captaincy for the first time the following year.
And T-shirts donning the words ‘In BOD we trust’ soon began flying off Irish shelves, testament to O’Driscoll’s impact in helping an Ireland side who had struggled throughout the previous decade become a more viable Championship contender.
The No. 13 was awarded the permanent captaincy ahead of the 2003 renewal of the Championship as he led Ireland to a second-placed finish, a portent of things to come as they embarked on a bold new era.
A first Triple Crown since 1985 followed the next year – a feat repeated in 2006 and 2007 – as O’Driscoll stamped his influence all over the Ireland side and fans strapped themselves in for what was turning into a breathtaking rugby rise.
Grand Slam nirvana
O’Driscoll’s side finished fourth in the 2008 Championship but that was merely the warm-up act for the following year, as Declan Kidney’s men took an almighty step into the terrain of Guinness Six Nations greatness.
It was in 2009 when O’Driscoll led Ireland to their maiden Grand Slam title since 1948, taking the Championship by the scruff of the neck as they made history in Cardiff on one magical March day.
Kidney was equipped with his own Captain Marvel that year as O’Driscoll led from the front in thrilling fashion, running in no fewer than four tries across the five matches as he finished as joint top-scorer alongside England’s Riki Flutey.
The midfield icon scored in Ireland’s opening three Championship clashes against France, Italy and England, delivering a characteristically composed performance against Scotland in Edinburgh before dotting down once more in Wales to cap Grand Slam nirvana.
And that sent the travelling Ireland contingent – and the millions watching across the Irish Sea – into raptures, as O’Driscoll engineered a flawless campaign to end those 61 years of hurt.
2014 title and career swansong
Ireland failed to emulate those memorable exploits across the following four years but that did little to diminish O’Driscoll’s influence, as he picked up his 100th Test cap in 2010 before becoming the leading Championship try scorer of all-time in 2011.
O’Driscoll was ruled out of the 2012 Championship through injury, after Ireland had been knocked out of the 2011 World Cup following a last eight defeat to Wales.
The men in green languished in fifth in the 2013 edition but O’Driscoll was far from finished, as he helped Ireland romp to an evocative crowning glory in his final Championship as a player.
Joe Schmidt’s men lost to England at Twickenham but brushed past Scotland, Wales, Italy and France, as O’Driscoll celebrated a victory against the Azzurri in his final game on Ireland soil before playing a crucial role in a hard-fought win in Paris.
And that capped off O’Driscoll’s glorious rise to the Guinness Six Nations summit, transforming the Ireland side he first broke into 15 years before into a formidable, Grand Slam-winning Championship heavyweight.
With two Championship titles, 65 appearances and a record 26 tries, O’Driscoll’s indelible Championship legacy will live forever.