Ireland will need to regroup, rebuild and recover from their World Cup quarter final exit on Saturday, but it will not diminish the legacy of this group, says Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll.
New Zealand stunned Ireland in Paris on Saturday in one of the great World Cup clashes. The loss, however, means that Ireland’s 'greatest ever squad' still failed to make it to a World Cup semifinal.
In addition to the heartbreak of losing in the knockouts yet again, retirements from Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls, as well as Peter O'Mahony's future being in doubt, means that Andy Farrell will need to rebuild anew when it comes time for Ireland to return to camp.
Ireland will miss the characters
Speaking on Off The Ball, Brian O'Driscoll felt the loss and rebuild will not derail Farrell's plans and succession, however the loss of the characters in the dressing room will have an affect.
"I don't think what's happened will derail it," O'Driscoll said. "What will have an impact of course is the personnel changes and the importance of those individuals.
"Pete [O'Mahony] not knowing [if he wants to continue playing], Johnny [Sexton], obviously, Earlsy [Keith Earls]. They are big characters in an environment and that takes a lot of replacing.
"[They are] leaders within their setup, through deed predominantly. So, it feels as though, of course, there's going to be change."
Jack Crowley's time to shine
With Ireland captain Johnny Sexton retiring after Saturday's loss, there is a massive hole to fill in one of the most crucial areas on the pitch.
Sexton will go down in history as one of the greatest ever Irish players to ever take to the field, and many will argue he is one of the greatest ever to lace up a pair of boots.
The question of his successor has long been a point of contention, however the current front runner is Munster's Jack Crowley. O'Driscoll pondered the questions surrounding the now vacant 10 jersey.
"There's a freedom that comes for Jack Crowley now," O'Driscoll said. "Having learnt over the last couple of years, particularly in the last year, off Sexton.
"Is there going to a duel with him and Ross Byrne? Will someone else push through and challenge the two of them for the number 10 jersey? Is Joey Carbery going to come back in? It doesn't look like it at the moment, but ho knows?
"So, there's going to be changes. Because Johnny [Sexton] had such an impact on the squad as a person, as a leader, that will be significant."
Building for the future
One thing that O'Driscoll was certain on, though, was that the talent continues to flood into the provincial and national set ups.
"There's lots of talent coming through," O'Driscoll added. "The U20s have been very successful. There's young guys going to get their first tests in next year's Six Nations and in the coming years. So, the game always moves on past every individual.
"You find a coping mechanism, or you go a different route. That's just the reality of it."
However, in spite of falling a few hurdles short of where this team seemed destined to finish, Brian O'Driscoll still holds the Irish rugby class of 2023 as the greatest ever squad to don the green jersey.
"No doubt!" O'Driscoll said. "It will be easy for people [to criticise]. For me, this is no doubt the best Irish team I've ever seen.
"The consistency and depth of squad, but with that said, the depth piece still needs work. I think they did a great job of talking about great strength in depth, but I think an injury or two here or there and things are different."
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