"He's ruptured his hamstring off the bone and he’s trying to get up into the defensive line" 8 months ago

"He's ruptured his hamstring off the bone and he’s trying to get up into the defensive line"

"I absolutely loved the guy. I think the sun shines out of his arse. He's an absolute national treasure!"

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As anyone that every watched Paul O'Connell celebrating correctly guessing Borussia Mönchengladbach as a Question of Sport answer will testify, the Munster man is a born competitor.

Whereas the likes of Peter Stringer, Ronan O'Gara and, later, Peter O'Mahony were all tipped for greatness in their teenage years, it took O'Connell a couple more years to establish himself in the Munster XV. Once he did so, there was no turning back. He ended up playing 293 games for Munster, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions, and led all three sides with distinction.

On the latest episode of House of Rugby Ireland, former Ulster and Ireland centre Darren Cave (LISTEN from 46:00 below) shared a tale from the 2015 World Cup that shows how O'Connell was across everything going on in the squad.

Paul O'Connell pictured before a 2015 World Cup warm-up game at Twickenham. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

There has not been an abundance of good news to kick off 2021, at home and abroad, but many rugby supporters were heartened to hear Paul O'Connell would be joining Andy Farrell's set-up as Ireland forwards coach.

Cave is in no doubt that the Limerick native will pour everything into making himself a success in the role. Having played 11 times for Ireland, between 2009 and 2015, the former Ulster centre shared many a training camp and match with O'Connell.

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"I absolutely loved the guy," he says. "I think the sun shines out of his arse. I just think he’s an absolute national treasure.

"I remember, actually, at the [2015] World Cup, when, the first week, Robbie Henshaw got injured in training. I was probably the only player at the World Cup that was an out-and-out centre, but I was not getting picked. Only I could do that! But all the lads were playing fullback, and stuff, at that stage.

"Luke Fitzgerald got picked to play at 12 for the first game, because Robbie had dropped out, and it was a wee bit of a surprise. And I remember Paulie pulled me to one side, when we arrived in Cardiff, and was like, ‘Look, Darren, I thought you were going to get picked. I’m not sure why you haven’t. But, if you’re going to win a World Cup, or be successful, we need 31 guys. We’re not even here and we can’t have something festering. Keep your head down. You will have opportunities and you will play'.

"I remember thinking, ‘Flip, this guy’. Like, it’s the most irrelevant thing to what he was preparing for. He was preparing to captain his country in a World Cup. So Luke Fitzgerald or Darren Cave in the centre? I was surprised that he even noticed. But, for him to take the time and pull me to one side… I always remember thinking, ‘Flip, that just shows the mark of the man’."

Darren Cave (fourth left) and Paul O'Connell (far right) react to Ireland's World Cup exit at the hands of Argentina. (Credit: Sportsfile)

O'Connell led Ireland to the quarter finals in 2015 and they went into the last eight clash with Argentina as favourites. Joe Schmidt's side were without Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony [both injured] and Sean O'Brien was suspended. They also had to do without O'Connell, who had badly injured himself in a pool stage win over France.

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"In many ways," Cave reflects, "it was such a cruel way for him to go – his injury.

"But part of me thinks – and this is actually going to sound weird – but it was almost quite forbidding, as well, that the last memory I have of this guy playing rugby was with a ruptured hamstring, trying to get back in the defensive line. I remember it vividly and, like, what a cruel way to go. But also, what a good way to go.

"Is there a more… like, this guy has ruptured his hamstring off the bone and he’s trying to get up into the defensive line because he knows - the team is more important than him. I always thought, you know, he wouldn’t have chosen to go that way, but it really does show the mark of the man."

Although that tournament was his last playing involvement with Ireland, O'Connell was due to finish out his club career with Toulon but the hamstring injury proved too severe and he hung up his boots for good in 2016.

Since then, O'Connell has helped out with Munster's underage squads, and has had assistant coach jobs with Ireland U20 and Stade Francais. The senior Ireland gig is another step up, but few that know the man doubt he will bring a lot to Farrell's side.

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WATCH THAT EPISODE HERE:


SUBSCRIBE TO HOUSE OF RUGBY IRELAND HERE

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Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts, and has already featured interviews with Brian O'Driscoll, Nigel Owens, Sean Cronin, Shane Williams, Mike Brown, CJ Stander, Ugo Monye, Sene Naoupu, Schalk Burger, Dan Leo, James Lowe, Marcell Coetzee, Ciaran Griffin, Ian Keatley and Darren Cave.