Brian O’Driscoll will make his 100th appearance in an Ireland shirt at Croke Park today against Wales. It is testament, first of all, to his ability as a rugby player that he reaches his milestone and secondly to his longevity as an athlete that he is able to do this. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though and his career has been interrupted by injury, most notably a recurring hamstring issue and the dislocated shoulder that prematurely ended his Lions tour of New Zealand in 2005. His recovery from these injuries demonstrates his athletic ability but also highlights the quality of man management the IRFU is able to attain due to the central contracting of their best talent.
There are no conflicts of interest in Ireland, everyone knows where they stand. The vast majority of the squad ply their trade for Irish teams and so the number of games they play is essentially in the best interests of the player. This is not so in England. The issues surrounding James Haskell this week and the tug of war between Stade Francais, his employer, and the RFU shows that player management is not what it should be. Haskell is an important player for England and will play a big role in the Calcutta cup match this weekend. It shouldn’t have even been a debate, he should have no game between the intensely physical match against Ireland and the, in all likelihood brutal, match against Scotland. Instead we saw both sides consulting lawyers and threatening legal discourse.
Until England manage to sort out the management of players, these issues will continue to crop up, more so if they continue to disregard their own policy of not selecting those players who decide to play abroad.