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O'Driscoll enters the home straight with extreme modesty

LONDON -- “In no time, no one will remember me.”

Of all the words that will be written and spoken about Ireland rugby great Brian O'Driscoll as the gifted center enters the final fortnight of his Test career, surely none will prove so wide of the mark as his own absurdly modest self-assessment delivered this week.

Far more likely is that when O'Driscoll's youngest admirers are themselves old men they will reminisce fondly about having seen him in action just as their forebears talk of Jack Kyle, Ireland's brilliant 1948 Grand Slam-winning fly-half, Willie John McBride, the second row colossus and captain of the all-conquering British and Irish Lions in South Africa in 1974, or that other great Ireland stalwart of the 1960s and 1970s, Mike Gibson — arguably the only player who can top “BOD” as Irish rugby's best all-time center.

That celebrated trio of Irish rugby greats all come from the British-controlled province of Northern Ireland, whereas O'Driscoll is from the independent southern Republic, a distinction that matters less in rugby union than many other sports given the 15-man game remained an all-island-of-Ireland affair even after partition in the 1920s.

But Gibson and O'Driscoll do have some things in common.

Gibson retired as the world's most-capped player, with 81 Tests to his name, including 12 for the Lions, in 15 years.

Meanwhile this weekend, in his final home international before retirement, 35-year-old O'Driscoll will appear in a record-breaking 140th Test (including eight for the Lions) in 15 years as Six Nations leaders Ireland face Italy at Dublin's Lansdowne Road.

O'Driscoll, who made his debut in 1999, was one of the first purely professional-era top-flight rugby union players in an age of ever more Tests (Six Nations, not Five, World Cups and several internationals every November).

Not that O'Driscoll, who has transformed himself from a youthful dasher with an eye for the gap to a master defender in the often brutal world of modern rugby union, was one for misty-eyed memories.

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Ireland center Brian O'Driscoll sings his national anthem at the start of the Six Nations international rugby union match between England and Ireland at Twickenham, west London on Feb. 22. (AFP)

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