BRIAN O’DRISCOLL WAS nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year award no fewer than three times throughout his decorated career, but not since Keith Wood in 2001 has an Irish player been recognised with the accolade.
O’Driscoll was one of the nominees Wood pipped to the inaugural award 17 years ago, before the centre was on the shortlist the following year and then again in 2009 on the back of captaining Ireland to Grand Slam glory.
Brian O’Driscoll was in Dublin yesterday as a Guinness ambassador. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Indeed there has been no shortage of Irish representation among the nominees down through the years, the likes of Gordon D’Arcy, Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip earning the distinction of being named among the best in the world.
But not since 2011 — when France’s Thierry Dusautoir was honoured — has a player not from New Zealand been called on stage at the end-of-year awards ceremony, with Beauden Barrett this year bidding to become the first player to win three-in-a-row.
Among those up against the All Black out-half is Johnny Sexton, who has been nominated for the second time following his brilliance for both Ireland and Leinster throughout a dream season.
Sexton, who starts for Ireland against Argentina this evening, was consistently outstanding last term, guiding his club and country to rarefied heights during 2018 and while facing a stiff task to usurp Barrett from the stage, would be a worthy winner.
Also in competition with All Blacks winger Rieko Ioane and Springbok pair Faf de Klerk and Malcolm Marx, Sexton’s credentials stand up to anyone.
The 33-year-old, who was previously nominated back in 2014, helped Joe Schmidt’s Ireland to a memorable Six Nations Grand Slam and first series win in Australia for 39 years, playing a key role throughout the course of the season.
He started the international season with that stunning last-gasp drop goal in Paris while also steering Leinster to a historic Champions Cup-Pro14 double — all of which means he has got the vote of O’Driscoll, who is part of the eight-person judging panel.
John Smit, George Gregan, Maggie Alphonsi, Clive Woodward, Agustín Pichot, Richie McCaw and Fabien Galthié are the other sitting members, with the winner set to be announced on 25 November after the public are also given the chance to vote for their choice.
“Will he win it? I’m one of eight judges, so he’s an eighth of the way there,” O’Driscoll smiled, before adding he hopes his fellow northern hemisphere judges agree.
“Do I think Johnny has been one of the most consistent and best players in the world this year? I do, but I think we can get forgotten about sometimes by our southern hemisphere counterparts,” the former Ireland captain explained.
“We’ll have to wait and see whether Maggie, Clive Woodward and Fabien… I think there’s enough weight in the Six Nations, the European Cup and the Pro14, and that drop goal in France.