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13th Dec 2016

Brian O’Driscoll firmly rejects claims that Sean O’Brien ducked into Dylan Hartley tackle

Speaking exclusively to SportsJOE

Patrick McCarry

Brian O’Driscoll likes to believe he can spot a move coming that split second before most people.

It was one of the traits that set him apart as a player and one that he believes has eased his transition into the punditry game.

So, when he saw Dylan Hartley lining up ball-carrying Sean O’Brien on Friday night at Franklin’s Gardens, he sensed an impact hit was coming. He could not have guessed that Hartley would opt against the tackle and go, instead, for a straight, swinging arm to O’Brien’s head.

Straight red card and no complaints from the Saints hooker and England captain.

“You want to say red immediately,” comments O’Driscoll, who was on commentary duty for BT Sport at the time. He needed only one look at the replay to confirm his suspicions. Following the game, with more time to stew on Hartley’s head-high hit, O’Driscoll tweeted:

Some online apologists for Hartley have suggested that O’Brien ducked into Hartley’s swinging arm but the BT Sport rugby pundit is not having it. He tells SportsJOE:

O’Brien didn’t duck into it, he was tackled. Tom Wood was tackling him by the ankles and he was falling. There is a duty of care from the tackler coming in to effect a tackle – and that wasn’t a tackle; there was no attempt to grab and it was incredibly loose and reckless.

“If he hits O’Brien in his body it would still have been a yellow card because it is a straight arm. He hits him in the head so it is a straight red. It’s an easy decision. It becomes more of a red card the more I see it.”

Hartley O'Brien

The former Ireland captain came up against Hartley on plenty of occasions in his playing days but never lined up on the same team – disciplinary issues cost Hartley spots in 2009 and 2013 Lions squads.

O’Driscoll is not at all certain how Hartley’s coaches and teammates will be able to get across the message that he needs to cut out the red mist antics. He says:

“This is going to be Dylan’s seventh suspension. Not many players have had that many suspensions. A lot of guys play close to the line so it’s hard to say. I was asked on BT [on Sunday] what do you say or do with a player like that and I really didn’t have an answer.

“When someone has been banned for a seventh time, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do to prevent him being banned for an eighth time.”

While O’Driscoll doubts Hartley’s upcoming ban [minimum entry level for such a hit is six weeks] will help his British & Irish Lions chances, he feels the opposite about Ireland captain Rory Best.

“Rory has had a great year from an individual perspective and there is no better way to lead than your own performances,” he says.

“The way he has captains on the field, it is very clear and evident that he is in control of his emotions and he has built a good rapport with the referees. He has said the right thing at the right time and has put the squeeze on referees when needed, without trying to get players sin-binned or get referees to call things that they don’t see. He has struck a really good balance and I’ve been impressed with that.

“He has certainly done no harm from a Lions perspective – for a selection and, who knows, more than that.”

Music to our ears.

BT Brian O'Driscoll

Tune in for round 4 of the European Rugby Champions Cup with Leicester v Munster, Saturday December 17 at 15:15, followed by Leinster v Northampton Saints at 19:45 and Sale v Saracens on Sunday, December 18 at 17:30, exclusively live on BT Sport 2.  

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