THE way has been cleared for Munster’s talismanic second row Paul O’Connell to continue his playing career abroad after the World Cup, with confirmation that the Limerickman will be released from his IRFU Munster contract once Ireland’s participation at the tournament is completed.
O’Connell has confirmed his desire to “experience new environments” following next autumn’s Rugby World Cup, in line with reports linking the 35-year-old with a move to big-spending French Top 14 side, Toulon.
O’Connell, who played his last game for Munster in their disappointing Guinness PRO12 final defeat to Glasgow on Saturday, said this Tuesday: “After the World Cup I would like to experience new environments, and it is my genuine hope and ambition that I will have some future involvement with Munster and Irish Rugby.
“I would like to thank Munster Rugby and the IRFU for releasing me from my contract at the end of the Rugby World Cup. I have been hugely fortunate to play with one of the greatest sporting organisations in the world - and as a proud Limerick, Munster and Irishman, I will forever treasure my association with Munster Rugby.
“I would also like to thank all Munster and Irish Rugby fans for their support and I look forward to them showing why they are regarded as the best supporters in world rugby as Ireland travel to the Rugby World Cup in England in September,” he added.
O’Connell, who is currently contracted until June 2016, had requested an early release from contract and both the IRFU and Munster Rugby have acceded to the request given Paul’s “exceptional contribution” to the sport.
Philip Browne, IRFU CEO, said: “Paul has been a fantastic servant to Irish Rugby. Over the course of his 101 Ireland caps to date he has set the standard for the model Irish professional.
“His contribution to Irish rugby is immeasurable in terms of not only driving success on the field but also raising the profile of Irish Rugby around the world.”
Garrett Fitzgerald, Munster Rugby CEO, said: “In wishing Paul all the best for the future I would like to acknowledge the outstanding role he has played within Munster Rugby.
“Over a 14 year career with the province, Paul has epitomised what it means to wear the red jersey, and through his own hard-work, commitment and leadership he has become an iconic figure in world rugby.
“A truly great ambassador for the province, he has been the standard-bearer of this team for over a decade and everyone around him has reaped the benefits of his professionalism and dedication.
“We would like to think this is not the final chapter in Paul’s Munster story, and we would welcome future opportunities to work with him again.”
O’Connell made his senior Munster debut in August 2001 away to Edinburgh and has represented the province on 178 occasions. With Munster, the second row has won two European Cups - in 2006 and 2008 - three league titles - 2003, 2009 and 2011 - and a Celtic Cup in 2005.
O’Connell made his Ireland debut against Wales in February 2002 and has won 101 caps for his country. With Ireland, he has won a Grand Slam in 2009, led his country to two RBS 6 Nations championship titles this year and last and claimed four Triple Crowns, in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
In 2009, he led the British and Irish Lions Tour of South Africa. A three time Lions Tourist - in 2005, 2009 and 2013 - O’Connell played in a total of 7 Lions Tests and was a member of the series winning side in Australia in 2013.