TRIBUTES have been pouring in for iconic Irish rugby captain Paul O’Connell who has played his last game for his country due to a hamstring injury.
Thirty five-year-old talisman O’Connell suffered a torn hamstring in Ireland’s bruising 24-9 World Cup Group D victory over France in Cardiff on Sunday, which set up a quarter final clash with Argentina next weekend.
The Limerickman will undergo surgery this week on the injury and the amount of time he is to is face on the sidelines ‘will depend on the outcome of the surgery’.
He was due to join French Top 14 side Toulon on a two-year deal after the World Cup.
The Limerick man, who turns 36 next Tuesday, began his international career with a try-scoring debut against Wales in 2002 and has been a key member of the Ireland side since. The Young Munster clubman finishes his international career with 108 Ireland caps and another seven for the British and Irish Lions. This was his fourth time to play in the World Cup.
Munster head coach, Anthony Foley, said O’Connell had set the tone for Sunday’s terrific World Cup victory over France through his excellent first half showing.
Foley said: “It is sad in one respect, but for him to go out in the manner he went with – it is probably fitting. He went out fighting for a ball on the ground and trying to get a turnover. He had an excellent performance up to that point.
“He was carrying ball, he was doing everything. Ireland’s lineout was functioning well and they were going after the French lineout as well at that stage. It set a tone for the game, for the boys to continue.”
O’Connell’s former Munster, Ireland and Lions team -mate Ronan O’Gara described O’Connell as one of rugby’s greatest competitors.
O’Gara tweeted: “My sadness is tinged with absolute pride having spent 16 years with one of Rugby’s greatest competitors.” #gentleman #Leader #1ofakind
Former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said the fact O’Connell’s international career had been ended prematurely by injury was ‘wrong on so many levels’.
O’Driscoll continued: “One of the greatest leaders & players of them all. Inspirational.”
As Peter Stringer wrote of O’Connell in his recent autobiography, Pulling the Strings: “You look at him in the dressing-room and he doesn’t even have to say anything. Your game raises itself. It’s just his presence. He will be missed incredibly by Munster and Ireland. I can’t speak too highly of him.”
Legendary Italian back-row forward Sergio Parisse tweeted: @Paul_O’Connell was a privilege to play against you!! Really sad to hear of your retirement best second row ever! #legend
Talented young Ireland centre, Robbie Henshaw added: “Any time he spoke he always managed to say the right thing, always something new, you would hear a pin drop. Everything was nailed on perfectly.”
Ireland women’s team captain Niamh Briggs tweeted her best wishes: “You always want to finish on your own terms but sport can be cruel!! True leader & inspiration...hope he gets back to play in France.”