Paul with Alesha South and Daniel Scully of Bruree National School Picture: Alan Place
AS the Ireland rugby team prepares to take on France in the Six Nations this Saturday, their former leader and talisman Paul O’Connell thinks they can capitalise on French frailties and even win the Championship outright.
Ireland take on Les Bleus at the Aviva Stadium knowing a bonus point win will be needed if they want to reignite their Championship hopes.
Speaking to the Leader at the TLC competition launch, about Ireland’s chances this weekend, the former Munster, Ireland and Lions captain said it was hard to say exactly where Ireland are in terms of form, given the weak Italian opposition they encountered a fortnight ago.
“I thought Italy were really poor. I think France have a fantastic team with great players but they always give you an opportunity to get into the game with penalties or some silly off-loading and I think Ireland are good at taking advantage of that, so I think they will do well,” he said.
Asked if he thinks Ireland have the wherewithal to win the Championship outright, he said: “I do, certainly. They have picked up two bonus points – a losing bonus point and a winning bonus point – so I think we have a great chance. That last game against England in the Aviva could be a decider. They have to play France, they have to go to the Millennium Stadium and play Wales which will be very tough but I think we have a great chance.”
The rugby giant, who has been busy with his new punditry job with the BBC, also expressed his delight at the buzz which is back in the Munster Rugby ranks.
“It’s fantastic. I’ve been to most of the games – most of the home games anyway. I have really, really enjoyed them. It’s great to see the guys playing so well and getting a reward for all the hard work they have been putting in for the last few years.
“I wasn’t there last year but previous years we probably weren’t playing as well either despite working incredibly hard so it’s great to see them being so clever about their business. We are never going to be the richest club in the world but it’s great to see them really boxing clever every time they play and I think Munster fans enjoy that.”
With Munster contesting a glamour Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Toulouse at Thomond Park on April 1, O’Connell says the knock-on effect of the province’s success has been brilliant.
“I think all of the games we have played in Cork over the last few months have been sold out as well. It’s been great to see Thomond Park buzzing as well. It makes the experience for the players incredible. It’s fantastic.”
As well as his punditry job with the BCC, the Limerickman also has an advisory role with the Munster Academy.
“I do enjoy it. I probably only supplement the staff who are already there. There are some amazing staff there doing some great work already. I do enjoy it.”
This week the rugby world was rocked by the news that former Australia lock Dan Vickerman passed away suddenly aged 37.
The former Brumbies and Waratahs player, who made 63 appearances for Australia, died at his family home in Sydney. O’Connell, who played against the second-row, spoke of his sadness on hearing the news.
“I don’t know all the details but any time a guy dies that young it’s just incredibly sad – he was a great player. He was a young man with his whole life ahead of him so it’s very sad.”
Speaking about his retirement which he announced in February of last year, Paul said that he had been “very lucky” in that he had been given a lot of opportunities .
“Some people don’t maybe get the same opportunities,” he commented.
“ I think it’s important to prepare for it [retirement] all the time – I think studying and trying to do some work while you’re playing is probably something I would advise people to do. An awful lot of guys do that now.
“IRUPA, our professional players’ association, are absolutely excellent and every player now, I would say, is doing some bit of study or some bit of preparation for life after rugby. And I think the professional players’ association in Ireland deserves a lot of credit for that.”