Don’t know about anyone else, but I’m quite underwhelmed by rugby at the moment. I know it’s a necessary evil, but the sight and sound of empty stadiums just doesn’t do it for me. I must confess I’ve watched very little action recently and struggle to keep up with developments.
However, some recent news genuinely excites me. The appointment of Paul O’Connell as the Irish forwards coach is a masterstroke by the IRFU. Just when the titan of all titans seemed lost to the professional sport in Ireland, we have a welcome if unexpected addition to Andy Farrell’s coaching ticket. A wonderful bit of business.
The Limerick man is a colossal leader and adds significant value to any team he’s part of. A terrific orator, of course, and a genuinely hard man, the former Irish captain is a figure that inspires respect and fear in equal measure among opponents. But that’s only part of it. O’Connell is a much more intelligent and thoughtful individual than many realise, and brings a huge amount of intellectual property to the set-up.
As a player, O’Connell was renowned for his endless hours dissecting opposition lineouts prior to games. He has a marvellous rugby brain, for sure. That said, the big man is still a scary and intimidating presence these days. I saw him at close quarters at Ravenhill a couple of years ago coming up the stairs and can confirm that Paul is a bear of a man.
I like also that Farrell is keeping Simon Easterby on the ticket. The two will work well together; reprising a relationship they had as Irish players who excelled at the set-piece from a tactical perspective. It’s actually quite an All Blacks’ move and reminiscent of Steve Hansen rejigging the roles and responsibilities in his brains trust a few years back. Keeping everyone on their toes. Irish rugby maximising the resources at its disposal.
Of course, in an ideal world, O’Connell would serve a longer apprenticeship before being catapulted into the unforgiving cauldron of Test rugby; preferably as head coach of Munster. We know from the bitter experience of Martin Johnson, the perils of cutting your international coaching teeth too early. But you have to take these opportunities when they arise. It’s undoubtedly a clever move by David Nucifora and the IRFU.
O’Connell will galvanise, motivate and organise the Irish forwards but will do so much more. For this is the return of a talismanic figure who will instil the ingredients the Irish pack has been missing these past couple of years. Expect Ireland’s maul, ruck and, of course, lineout (both offensively and defensively) to be significantly better with O’Connell calling the shots.
It’s exciting too to think of James Ryan’s future development under O’Connell’s mentorship. In my last blog, I spoke of a certain lack of ‘dog’ in the current Irish pack. The savvy appointment of Paul O’Connell goes a long way to fixing the problem.