Paul O’Connell will captain Ireland for the third time against France this Sunday. IrishRugby.ie takes a look at the Limerick-born lock’s career to date.
PAUL O’CONNELL (YOUNG MUNSTER/MUNSTER)
Born: Limerick, October 20, 1979
Height: 6ft 6in; Weight: 17st 5lbs
Munster Caps: 72
Munster Points: 45 (9 tries)
Munster Debut: v Edinburgh, 2001
Ireland Caps: 40
Ireland Points: 30 (6 tries)
Ireland Debut: v Wales, 2002
– This weekend’s match against France marks the third time that O’Connell has stepped in to Brian O’Driscoll’s shoes to captain Ireland. O’Driscoll has had a hamstring injury on all three occasions. O’Connell captained the Irish against France (2004) and Scotland (2005) previously
– Captain of Munster this season, he was the scorer of the last ever try at the old Lansdowne Road, dotting down against the Pacific Islanders in November. That was his sixth Test try
– He was the only European player to be nominated for the IRB World Player of the Year award in 2006, which was won by New Zealand’s Richie McCaw
– He returned for Ireland against Italy last year after missing the 2005 autumn Tests due to thumb and hand injuries. He injured his shoulder against France, twelve months ago, but has had a clean bill of health since
– He won 25 of his Ireland caps in a run of 27 Tests to the end of the 2005 Six Nations, then went on the Lions tour to New Zealand, starting all three Test matches
– He made a try-scoring debut against Wales in 2002, in what was coach Eddie O’Sullivan’s first game in charge. His other tries have come against Wales (2 in August 2003), Scotland (February 2005), New Zealand (June 2006) and the Pacific Islanders (November 2006)
– Made his breakthrough at the 2003 World Cup – impressing in all five games. He played on the same Ireland Schools side as Gordon D’Arcy and played in five consecutive games for the Irish Under-21s with Donncha O’Callaghan, his current Munster and Ireland team-mate, as his second row partner
– Scored five tries in 12 games for Munster last season, including a brace against Castres Olympique in the Heineken Cup. He was a pivotal figure in the province’s Heineken Cup final triumph last May
– Was voted Guinness Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year in 2006, and also scooped awards last season as the IRUPA Player of the Year, the Munster Rugby Supporters Club Player of the Year and the Irish Rugby Supporters Club Player of the Year
– A talented golfer, who has played off four, and swimmer, O’Connell decided to concentrate on rugby over the other two sports
ON SUNDAY’S GAME AGAINST FRANCE:
“We must improve everywhere, we have got to hold on to the ball for longer and play more phases.
“We have to put teams under more pressure. Our lineout, our scrum, our kicking game and our work at the breakdown was good last weekend but once or twice it was sloppy and that nearly cost us.
“The big thing with France and we saw it last year is their unpredictability. They are a very hard team to defend against because they play it of the cuff so much. When you make mistakes against France if you’re not very sharp you’ll concede a try.”
ON THE CAPTAINCY:
“The captaincy is something I’ve done before and it’s something I love doing. It’s Brian’s job but when you step in for a week to do it, it’s great. I can throw myself into it for a week and then step back when he returns. I enjoy it.”
ON IRELAND’S DEBUT AT CROKE PARK:
“The Croke Park aspect of it is something we’ll enjoy and use as motivation but we must realise it won’t win us the game. France have played in plenty of hostile grounds so they’re well used to that sort of thing.
“They’ll be fairly oblivious to it. We have to do the ground justice by becoming the victorious team. History would look more favourably on a team that won their first game at Croke Park rather than lost it.
“We want to get the crowd behind us but we have to give them something to cheer about. We hope we’ll do that and they respond by giving us a massive lift. The crowd have a part to play in that.”