O'Connell looks ready to lift the burden
RUGBY: IRELAND CAMPThe sight of Paul O’Connell, along with Cian Healy, bounding out on to the pitch at Carton House yesterday before coming through the afternoon’s Ireland training session unscathed will have been a timely boost for all present.
Having lost Stephen Ferris to compound the absence of regular captain Brian O’Driscoll and sometime captain Rory Best, an increasingly frayed Ireland squad could ill afford to lose another Lions captain.
No decision has been made yet, according to team manager Mick Kearney, regarding the Ireland captaincy, all the more so as O’Connell had been in some doubt until responding well to treatment over the weekend and, a la Healy, will be monitored over the course of the week. But for all the speculation about a new captain last week, one imagines O’Connell will lead the side out against the Springboks this Saturday.
In any event, he’ll be a rallying point as ever. “He’s a world-class player,” said his long-time team-mate and now coach Anthony Foley, who has been drafted in to work with Ireland’s defence. “He’s a leader. He’s a talismanic figure within the group. He’s one of those guys that when I was playing, I liked to see him tog out beside me. And when I’m coaching him, I like to see him in the changing-room running the rule over the charges. It gives everyone confidence.”
That said, with O’Driscoll and Best hors de combat in an era of relative transition, the core of lieutenants are having to assume more leadership responsibility, which has intrigued Foley.
“We’re at the stage in development where other guys are emerging as well. Others are taking on that mantle. So that’s very interesting for me, to see these young guys coming through, the value they put on the jersey, the value they put on the importance of team over individual. It’s a good combination at the moment. It’s very interesting the way the squad is, in terms of senior guys being injured and others having to step up.
“You’re looking at (Keith) Earls, (Gordon) D’Arcy, Tommy Bowe and players like that, guys who would have been very quiet when I was playing with them. But they’re taking on the mantle now, leading. It’s good. It’s refreshing. Heartening,” said Foley with a smile.
Another development to emerge from yesterday is Simon Zebo is amongst those being seriously considered to fill the number 15 jersey in the absence of Rob Kearney, with the latter’s namesake, and Ireland team manager, explaining that the presence of Denis Hurley, Earls, Bowe and Zebo in the squad meant they were sufficiently “well covered” not to call in Felix Jones after successive starts since his comeback from injury. Earls remains the likeliest deputy for O’Driscoll at outside centre.