We look back at some of Brian O'Driscoll's most memorable moments
By Tony Tighe. Last Updated: 18/03/14 6:47am
As Brian O'Driscoll prepares to make his final appearance on the international stage, we take a look at some of his most memorable moments.
Fifteen years ago O'Driscoll burst onto the international stage and he has been at the top of his game ever since.
The 35-year-old, who became the world's most capped rugby player against Italy on Saturday, will appear in his 141st Test (including eight for the Lions) in 15 years as Six Nations leaders Ireland face France in Paris on Saturday.
A win for Ireland would give him the send-off he so richly deserves and we look back at some of the highs and lows from his wonderful career.
Announcing his arrival
"France couldn't handle him. They couldn't believe this guy and what he was doing." Kevin Maggs
Ireland travelled to the Stade de France for the fourth round of the inaugural Six Nations in 2000, seeking their first win over France in 17 years and first in Paris since 1972.
Warren Gatland had wielded the axe after Ireland shipped 50 points at Twickenham in their opening game and an injection of youth helped them to landslide victories over Scotland and Italy at Lansdowne Road. However, a Sunday afternoon in Paris represented a massive step up in quality.
France threw the kitchen sink at Ireland in the opening quarter but they found themselves behind on 23 minutes when Malcolm O'Kelly sent O'Driscoll racing underneath the posts.
Les Bleus recovered and led at 12 points early in the second half but Brian O'Driscoll gave Ireland hope when he bagged his second try, which was wonderfully created by centre partner Rob Henderson.
Eight points separated the sides as the game entered the final 10 minutes. Ireland needed a moment of magic and it came from O'Driscoll, who saved his best until last.
Denis Hickie's dart from halfway took Ireland to the France 22 but the ball went loose after Peter Stringer came under pressure from a French defender. O'Driscoll beat an opposition player to the ball, scooping it up one-handed before bursting through a gap to complete a stunning hat-trick, and David Humphreys' late penalty clinched a 27-25 triumph.
O'Driscoll had arrived on the international scene.
"The brilliant Irishman has cut Australia to pieces. Genius." Stuart Barnes
Less than two years after making his Ireland debut in Brisbane, O'Driscoll returned to the Gabba in 2001 to score one of the best tries in British and Irish Lions history.
The second half was just minutes old when O'Driscoll sliced open the Wallabies defence. Receiving a pass from Jonny Wilkinson, the Irishman brushed off Nathan Grey's attempted tackle and left Jeremy Paul for dead. He looked around for support before quickly realising there was none, beat Matt Burke with a sumptuous sidestep and outpaced Joe Roff and Andrew Walker to touch down underneath the posts.
The ecstatic Lions fans reacted by hijacking the Wallabies' unofficial anthem, a rendition of 'Waltzing O'Driscoll' ringing around the Gabba as the tourists ran out 23-21 winners in the first Test.
"I love the try that I scored against the Australians," recalled O'Driscoll last month. "They were reigning world champions at the time and they had an incredible defensive record so it was great to score that from 40 yards out."
"I've always believed that you can't manufacture a captain. My view is that leaders are born, their qualities becoming self-evident the more you deal with them." Eddie O'Sullivan
O'Driscoll stood in as Ireland captain for the 2003 Six Nations after Keith Wood was ruled out through injury and led his side to a Grand Slam decider with England on the final day of the championship.
Between Martin Johnson's red carpet antics and the 80 minutes that ensued, it was a hugely disappointing day for Ireland. England ran out resounding victors and would become world champions later that year.
It wasn't all negative though. O'Driscoll's leadership skills impressed Ireland coach O'Sullivan, who appointed him as permanent captain following Wood's retirement later that year. It marked the beginning of the most successful period in Irish rugby history.
Ireland exacted revenge on England in the 2004 Six Nations, becoming the first visiting side to win at Twickenham since 1999, and went on claim their first Triple Crown in 19 years.
Further Triple Crowns followed in 2006 and 2007 while O'Driscoll also shone in victories over southern hemisphere heavyweights South Africa (3) and Australia. Ireland moved up to third in the world rankings, equalling their highest ever position. The next item on the agenda was a Six Nations title.
"Sadly the year he was Lions captain they got him. Nothing was done about it, which annoyed me." Willie McBride
When Clive Woodward picked O'Driscoll up at Heathrow Airport in early 2005 and brought him home for dinner to discuss the upcoming Lions tour of New Zealand, he immediately knew he was the man to skipper the side.
O'Driscoll was the first Irishman to captain the Lions since Ciaran Fitzgerald in 1983, when they also travelled to New Zealand and suffered a 4-0 whitewash.
The Lions had won just one series in the 'Land of the Long White Cloud', losing nine, and a string of unconvincing performances in their tour matches did little to suggest that Woodward's side would buck that trend.
Within 90 seconds of the first Test in Christchurch, O'Driscoll's tour was over. The centre was cynically speared by All Blacks duo Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu, dislocating his shoulder. Yet the citing commissioner decided no action should be taken against them.
"It was a cheap shot which has put me out. They could have quite easily broken my neck," said O'Driscoll afterwards.
The Lions lost the series 3-0, the first time in 22 years that had lost every Test match, but it was the spear on O'Driscoll that left the sourest taste.
The Grand Slam
"To deliver like he did, to score in four of the five matches, he gave leadership when it mattered - if ever a man deserved success, O'Driscoll does." Keith Wood
After three Triple Crowns and second place finishes in the previous five years, Ireland were desperate to go one better in 2009. Odd years represented Ireland's best chance of a title tilt as it meant France and England had to visit Dublin, and O'Driscoll ensured it would not be another opportunity missed.
The Leinster legend scored a fantastic try as Ireland finally got one over bogey side France at Croke Park, and grabbed another in the closing stages of a 29-point success in Rome. He also scored in the third round against England but that was just one element of an all-consuming performance that is regarded as one of his best in a green shirt.
Scotland were seen off in round four, setting up a Six Nations decider in Cardiff in the final round. Ireland trailed 6-0 at the interval but O'Driscoll scored the first of two quick-fire tries early in the second half, and Ronan O'Gara's late drop goal sealed an historic success.
"When you think of Brian O'Driscoll, you think of 13, you think of an icon in the sport." Jamie Heaslip
Just two months after winning the Six Nations, O'Driscoll had his hands on more silverware as Leinster stepped out of the shadows of provincial rivals Munster to claim the Heineken Cup.
O'Driscoll had been a frustrated onlooker as Munster established themselves as the flagship Irish side in the European's leading club competition. They hammered Leinster in the 2006 semi-final at Lansdowne Road and went on lift the trophy, before repeating the feat two years later.
But the last-four meeting between the sides at Croke Park in 2009 saw Leinster finally get one over the men in red. O'Driscoll intercepted a Ronan O'Gara pass to score his side's third try in a 25-6 win and potted a drop goal in the final success over Leicester Tigers.
More European success would follow for O'Driscoll. Leinster produced one of the greatest ever final comebacks to beat Northampton Saints in 2011 and they retained their title 12 months later by thumping Ulster at Twickenham.
As well as his three winners' medals, O'Driscoll sits second in the list of Heineken Cup all-time try-scorers with 34, one behind Vincent Clerc.
"I gave him his first cap at 19, and to be the first person to drop him in his rugby career was tough." Warren Gatland
Having missed the 2012 Six Nations through injury, O'Driscoll recovered in time for the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup as Leinster landed their third title in four years, and then travelled to New Zealand with Ireland for a three-Test series.
It proved a chastening tour. Well beaten in the first Test, a last-gasp Dan Carter drop goal denied Ireland in the second as the 14-man hosts snatched a 17-14 victory. Having come so close to a first ever win over New Zealand, Ireland failed to shake off the hangover by the time the third Test came around and were duly punished, the rampant All Blacks condemning them to a record 60-0 defeat in Hamilton.
O'Driscoll was again struck down by injury for the November internationals and when he returned to action ahead of the 2013 Six Nations, Declan Kidney delivered a hammer blow, stripping him of the captaincy. Ireland endured their worst ever Six Nations campaign, winning just once with points difference saving them from the wooden spoon.
Again, O'Driscoll took his international frustrations out on the club scene as Leinster claimed a Pro12 and Challenge Cup double, and his good form saw him rewarded with a place in the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour of Australia.
Just like in 2001, the Lions were 23-21 winners in Brisbane in the opening Test, but O'Driscoll and his fellow backs came in for criticism seven days later after they failed to spark during the second Test loss in Melbourne.
Gatland reacted by dropping O'Driscoll for the first time in his career. There wasn't even a place for him among the replacements and the decision caused shockwaves in the world of rugby. The Lions romped to a 41-16 win in the final Test, which many believe justified Gatland's decision. Others argued that given the dominance of the Lions forwards in Sydney, O'Driscoll would have made just as big an impact as the backs who were on the pitch. It's a debate that continues to this day.
"I look back at the tour now and I'm glad I can call it a successful Lions series but do I feel as much a part of it as those guys who took the pitch in the final Test? No I don't think I do," said O'Driscoll last September.
"Do I look back on it with the same delight that they do? Probably not."
The final stretch
"It is crazy to think how many young kids he has inspired. I remember watching him when I was young and I feel very privileged to be able to play with him." Chris Henry
Fourteen years after that thrilling hat-trick in the Stade de France, O'Driscoll returns to Paris on Saturday for his 141st and final Test cap. The stage is set.
Victory in Paris on Saturday is likely to seal a second Six Nations title in five years and give the 35-year-old a send-off that would surpass the one he received in Dublin last weekend.
Can he repeat his heroics of 2000 and inspire an Irish victory? It would be the perfect send-off for one of the greatest players of our generation.