Brian O’Driscoll has ended speculation over his future by agreeing a one-year contract extension with Ireland and Leinster.
O’Driscoll was expected to conclude his 14-season professional career after the forthcoming British & Irish Lions tour to Australia, but has instead chosen to re-sign with the Irish Rugby Union until the end of June 2014.
The 34-year-old stated throughout the RBS 6 Nations that he had not made a decision, with his fitness and family commitments having the ultimate say, but the scenes at what was potentially his final match at the Aviva Stadium against France on March 9 suggested the end was close.
“I want to thank the IRFU and Leinster for allowing me the time to think about my future and discuss my options with my family,” O’Driscoll said.
“The support my family and the Irish and Leinster fans have shown me over the past few months, and indeed years, has been phenomenal and I’m now very much looking forward to one more year playing with Ireland and Leinster.”
O’Driscoll will miss the Amlin Challenge Cup final against Stade Français because of a back spasm, but the problem is not expected to prevent him from touring with the Lions.
He has often stated that the condition of his body would help determine his future, having sat out Ireland’s 2012 autumn campaign due to ankle surgery, while shoulder and hamstring problems have troubled him in the past.
Also shaping his decision were the wishes of his family after wife Amy gave birth to their first child Sadie in February.
But the recent appointment of Joe Schmidt to succeed Declan Kidney as Ireland’s new head coach has contributed towards his willingness to play on for a further year.
Schmidt, who has worked closely with O’Driscoll at Leinster, welcomed the centre’s decision.
“It’s great that Brian has agreed to continue playing. He’s an inspirational player, not only on the pitch, but also on the training ground,” Schmidt said.
“He’s played well again this season and other players continue to learn from him.
“I know that every squad of which he is a part will profit from his qualities both as a rugby player and a person.”
O’Driscoll was a candidate to lead the Lions tour and headed the betting for the post at the start of the Six Nations, only for his form to dip.
He was included among the 37 players named by head coach Warren Gatland last month and is a leading contender to make the Test team on what will be his fourth Lions tour.
Since making his Test debut in 1999, he has made 125 appearances for Ireland to become his nation’s most capped player and top try-scorer after crossing 46 times.
The 2009 Grand Slam tops a roll of honour that also includes four Triple Crowns, three Heineken Cups and two RaboDirect Pro 12 championships.
“The IRFU is delighted that Brian has chosen to sign a new contract, ensuring he remains available to Ireland and Leinster for one more year,” IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said.
“Brian is a truly exceptional talent and there is no doubt that this new contract will boost our game at every level in the coming year.”