Both bowed out at the weekend, in different ways. 1970s All Black lock and four-time captain Frank Oliver died unexpectedly in his sleep aged 65; he had been up at 5am every morning working his sawmill and looked forward to a long life ahead. Frank Oliver was a hard man, an enforcer, a rugged man in the tight. He played alongside legendary players such as Andy Haden, Graham Mourie, Ian Kirkpatrick, Brian Williams and Bruce Robertson. His son Anton captained the All Blacks, and Frank went onto coaching in the professional era, a gruff and straight forward communicator. A quintessential Southlander. A top man.
Brian O’Driscoll is from another cut, a man who let his emotions show. When he walked off the pitch for the final time in the Irish emerald in Paris last weekend as a Six Nations champion, he no doubt battled to keep his emotions bottled. His career has been one for the ages, ending with 141 test caps, the world record for a rugby player.
The reception he received at his Dublin farewell on the weekend was spine tingling. He emerged as a centre with raw talent in the late 1990s, with pace to burn and an elusiveness that revolutionized Ireland’s style of play. Where attack earned his name, defence has cemented his legend. A rhino with the touch of an angel. You can’t help but wonder what he might have achieved had he been born in New Zealand, or even Australia. But the man himself would have it no other way.
He is the best player to have never beaten the All Blacks or won a World Cup. But then we can’t have it all our own way. Well done O’Driscoll. RIP Frank Oliver. We will miss you both.