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02nd Nov 2020

“There is no doubting Baird is a future Irish second row, long-term” – Paul O’Connell

Patrick McCarry

Paul O'Connell

The Autumn Nations Cup could see the talented young forward make his Ireland debut.

Earlier this year, when the country was in Lockdown No.1, Ryan Baird spoke with House of Rugby Ireland about the improvements he was trying to make – physically, mentally and with his game – during the break in play. He also spoke about his sporting icons, Rafael Nadal, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell.

“In rugby it was always Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell. They were the two big icons, back when I was younger and growing up. You would have followed them.”

Baird, then, will be enthused to hear how highly regarded he is by O’Connell. The versatile Leinster forward, who can play lock and both flanks, was set to be included in Andy Farrell’s Guinness Six Nations squad until he suffered an adductor injury and was forced to sit out a few weeks.

The 21-year-old is expected to return to action soon and O’Connell, who is a Vodafone British & Irish Lions ambassador, will be watching on closely if and when his Test debut arrives in the Autumn Nations Cup.

“With Ryan Baird, I think, particularly in the second row, I don’t think a little bit of time or a staggered introduction is a bad thing for him,” O’Connell begins.

“There is very few 110 or 112 kilo second rows playing international rugby now. You look at the second row pairing that South Africa had that helped them dominate England in the World Cup final, you do need weight, you need to be an athlete, you need to be fast, have great footwork to play in the second row, like maybe you didn’t need when I played. But you do need the bulk.

“A staggered introduction for him isn’t a bad thing. There is no doubting his playing ability, there is no doubting he is a future Irish second row long-term but as you get older, it isn’t just weights, you just become bigger, you become more solid. I think that will be good for him in the Test arena when the time comes.

“So I’m sure he’s frustrated, I’m sure he would have got plenty of opportunities playing for Ireland in the next few weeks and the Nations Cup as well. It’s probably hard to tell him but it’s not a bad thing to get a staggered introduction, there is a big difference between playing PRO 14 rugby and big Test matches against some of the bigger sides.”

O’Connell is a fan, too, of another Leinster forward that got his career off to a flying start – with Leinster and Ireland – before suffering a bad injury and needing a longer stretch to get back.

Asked about possible Irish selections for the 2021 Lions Tour to South Africa, O’Connell commented, “I think the bolter is Dan Leavy.

“There are certain players can do certain things but there are very few that can do it all and he can do it all. I watched the [Leinster vs. Zebre] game the other night and every time he carried I was seeing did he hold his knee or get up tentatively; he didn’t at all. He seemed to be very confident about what he was doing around his knee.

“He is just going to have to be a clever boy about that knee and not too brave. Leinster will be good for him in managing that. There are a few great players coming through in Irish rugby at the moment and a very small amount of them will be world class straight away and I think he is one of them.

“So Leavy would be my Lions bolter if he can stay fit and stay strong because he can do it all.”

Pictured is Paul O’Connell who was today announced as a Vodafone British & Irish Lions ambassador and is celebrating the launch of the 2021 Official Lions Tour App, available to download from today, where Vodafone have announced a new ‘Digital Lions’ initiative that will allow rugby fans to virtually become a British and Irish Lion for the first time ever. Fans can create their own personalised ‘Digital Lion’, a gaming style 3D animated virtual avatar which Paul is pictured with here, developed by the team behind Fortnite and FIFA that uses the movements of Lions’ legends.



Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts. You can catch up on all our episodes from past seasons and interviews with Conrad Smith, Victor Matfield, Simon Zebo, Sean O’Brien, Drew Mitchell, Jean De Villiers, Finn Russell, Mike Brown, Brian O’Driscoll, Tana Umaga and much, much more.

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