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13th Aug 2018

Paul O’Connell and Paddy Jackson set for early encounter in Top 14

Patrick McCarry

The Stade Aimé Giral will be the scene for some significant Irish rugby interest near the end of this month.

France’s Top 14 league starts on the weekend of August 24-26 and there is a match on the fixture list that will draw a lot of Irish eyes.

While Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo will be hoping to line out for Racing 92, at the Stade Mayol, against Toulon, there is a very interesting clash in store in France’s Basque region.

At 1:45pm local time, Saturday August 25, will officially mark the beginning of Paddy Jackson and Paul O’Connell’s Top 14 careers. The former Ireland teammates will be on opposite sides of the pitch come kick-off.

O’Connell, in his capacity as forwards coach, will be on the sideline for Stade Francais while Jackson is set to start at outhalf for newly promoted Perpignan.

Jackson, the former Ulster 10, has already made a friendly appearance for Perpignan and he will be eager to get his 2018/19 off to a good start after last season, in playing terms, was written off due to the much-covered court trial in Belfast.

Stuart Olding, who, along with Jackson, had his Ulster Rugby and IRFU contract revoked earlier this year, made his first outing for Brive, on Saturday, in their friendly loss to Connacht.

O’Connell was only announced as part of former Springboks’ head coach Heyneke Meyer’s coaching staff in early August but, according to those at the club, he has settled in quickly. He was previously coaching Munster underage sides and was assistant coach to Ireland’s U20s for this year’s Six Nations and junior world championships.

Flanker Sylvain Nicolas told Midi Olympique, “We can not wait to see what he’s going to offer us and how we’re going to all work together.”

Stade finished 12th last season, just three points ahead of relegated Oyonnax, but Meyer has recruited well, on and off the pitch. As well as O’Connell, the South African head-hunted former Munster scrum-half from Oyonnax as his attack/backs coach.

La Rochelle defeated Stade 28-26 at the weekend but these early games are a chance for the newly formed playing and coaching teams to get to know each other. The real test will began at the Stade Aimé Giral in what should be a fascinating encounter.