Former Ireland international Neil Francis believes the 2013 Lions tour can provide the perfect swansong for Brian O’Driscoll.
Francis, who won 36 caps for his country between 1987 and 1996 but missed out on selection for the 1989 and 1993 Lions tours, is convinced O’Driscoll still has what it takes to shine when Britain and Ireland’s elite head Down Under next summer.
The 34-year-old centre is bidding for a fourth successive tour having already completed a full house of southern hemisphere adventures.
O’Driscoll’s hopes were written off when he missed a large chunk of last season with a neck and shoulder injury but his form since he returned to action in April suggests he is far from finished, even at the very top of the global game.
“O'Driscoll continues to play at this level because he is still the best centre in the northern hemisphere,” wrote Francis in the Irish Independent.
“His value to any team supersedes what he does with the ball. Very few people can do justice to the term 'icon'. Human nature dictates that we are drawn to natural leaders or champions. This is a natural virtue earned by and bestowed upon O'Driscoll – people react to his presence.
“The real prize (this season) is the Lions tour to Australia. This one might be a personal crusade – three losing tours just would not sit right with him.
“The stigmata of O'Driscoll's World Cups will be something he won't gain absolution from but this Lions tour is very winnable – a last time into the breach.”
Francis doesn’t just reckon Ireland’s main man will just make the tour party, either – he says the 2005 Lions skipper should be a shoe in for the Test team.
O’Driscoll was the standout performer in the Lions’ first-Test win over the Wallabies 11 years ago and Francis sees more of the same next June.
“I hope (Lions coach Warren) Gatland doesn't pull any surprises or rationalise too much about what he wants from O'Driscoll,” added Francis.
“He should pick him if he is fit to go and play him in the Test series. Gatland's only thoughts will be on winning the Test series.
“I think there's so little time to blend that it would be such an ask for an inexperienced squad to gel. It would be imprudent to leave a three-time tourist at home.
“I am fairly certain O'Driscoll will go and this is the best chance of four attempts to win a series. If that happens, you could not stage manage a more natural curtain call.”