It was mooted this week that Andy Farrell is in the running to be Lions’ head coach for their tour of Australia. The IRFU has stated that it won’t stand in the way if its main man is indeed the choice. Good news for Farrell and for rugby fans alike as Farrell’s appointment, if rubber stamped, is a shrewd move.
Interestingly, though, Farrell’s would-be promotion creates an opportunity for one of our own to shine in his absence. You don’t need to be Sherlock Homes to deduce that Paul O’Connell is being lined up to succeed Farrell as Irish head coach. When the Munster legend was catapulted into the Irish set-up a couple of years ago, all signs pointed to this being an integral part of the IRFU’s succession plan for the national team. The universal plaudits O’Connell has received since his arrival attest to the monumental impact he’s made.
Therefore, it makes perfect sense that in the event of Farrell shipping off with the Lions, O’Connell is a ready made stand in. Sounds like the perfect plan, right? Of course, these days Lions coaches get carte blanche to pick their assistants and the former Wigan man may well want his Irish assistant with him in his jaunt down under if appointed to the Lions. However, from an Irish perspective, it makes sense for O’Connell to deputise with Ireland while his boss is away with the Lions, should that scenario come to pass.
So, although the IRFU has said it won’t stand in Farrell’s way should the Lions come knocking, will its condition be that O’Connell stays put for the duration of the Australian tour? I imagine the union won’t want to lose both its star coaches to the Lions when Lions’ tours always provide such great developmental opportunities for the players left behind. For Irish rugby, the dream scenario is Farrell leads the Lions to an historic series victory and that O’Connell stays behind to begin his apprenticeship as Ireland head coach in waiting.
Of course, much water has to pass under the bridge for any of the above to emerge. Life is fluid and things change very quickly. One day, you’re hot and the next you’re, well, not. But, all things being equal, this series of events could work out very well for all concerned in Irish rugby. The road map for succession is laid out before our eyes and few rugby nations are in as strong a position. Big Paul striding into his first press conference as head coach, you sense the excitement just thinking about it. With Farrell linked to the Lions’ job, Irish rugby has talked about contingency. That contingency has to be Paul O’Connell.