Joe Schmidt will be hugely disappointed Johnny Sexton is on Metro bench
Donncha O’Callaghan has agreed a new two-year deal with his native Munster
Donncha O’Callaghan has agreed a new two-year deal with his native province, Munster.
One down, one to go. While the Irish management fret over Johnny Sexton’s well-being and the extent of his involvement for Racing Metro this evening at Biarritz – as expected he has been named on the bench – one of Munster’s trio of international Irish locks out of contract at the end of the season, Donncha O’Callaghan, has agreed a new two-year deal with his native province.
That Sexton has even been named on the bench, after playing 13 games in 12 weeks this season and starting all but two of those, will be a huge disappointment to Joe Schmidt and perhaps even to Sexton himself, who cannot be accused of not providing value for money to his new Parisian employers this season.
Even in his guise as a replacement, Sexton will be heavily involved in the build-up to yet another match day and another day of travel. Racing had intended resting Sexton this weekend and it could be that if they are comfortably ahead he will remain unused on the bench, but that seems a relatively forlorn hope.
In any event, were he to play then Schmidt may well be of a mind to grant the player a rest week rather than play the opening Guinness Series match against Samoa next Saturday, given his description of the player as “pretty tired” and “pretty flat” at last week’s training camp. Were Sexton to only play two of Ireland’s three Tests, it would also, of course, suit Racing.
Meanwhile, despite moving from an international to a provincial contract, O’Callaghan has signed a two-year deal to remain with Munster, with the province hoping that Paul O’Connell and Donnacha Ryan, who last week visited Perpignan and took in their win over Bordeaux/Begles, follow suit.
O’Callaghan’s decision also comes in the wake of a proposed amendment to the tax rebate for retiring Irish sports stars which does prohibit them from finishing their careers abroad.
Speaking to Miriam O’Callaghan on the John Murray show on RTÉ Radio One yesterday morning, when asked if he’d ever consider moving abroad O’Callaghan admitted: “I’d like to think not. I love playing for Munster, and I love playing for Ireland. Granted, money comes into things.
“I’m thinking of more than myself now. Part of me as well, you have to have that feeling of playing for your team, and I don’t think I could do it for money.”
‘It means everything’
“Running out for Munster is something I’ve always wanted. It’s something my family are into. All my friends support Munster. It just means everything, and the same with Ireland. It means more to wear that shirt that just something that pays my salary. I know this is not a great negotiating place to put myself into but I hope that I’m a one club man.”
O’Callaghan, whose wife Jenny gave birth to a third girl, Robyn, last week, also repeated his heartfelt desire that the IRFU and Paul O’Connell agree a deal that keeps him within the Munster fold. “Like all of us, you want your best players playing in the team and to be fair Paulie is much more than a player around our set-up. He’s a standard setter in everything he does. When you have guys like that they bring the standard of everyone else up at training because you strive to be like them.
Of course Paulie has to do what’s right for him and his family but I know Paul really well and he gets no better kick than running out in Munster jerseys and Irish jerseys.”
With so many locks playing on until their late 30s nowadays nor, at 34, did O’Callaghan seriously consider retirement. “I find sport quite ageist, I’ll be honest with you, and I’ve got to the point where I root for the old guy now. When Robert Heffernan won his World Championship I was jumping around the place. Not because he’s an incredible athlete, but it was someone doing it at our age and I’m kind of rooting for the guys that are a little bit older.
“I’m getting really good training scores, and I’m fit and well, and my body feels good, and that’s all I can take it off. The main thing for me is I enjoy it. I love coming to training. I love the guys I’m hanging around with and I love playing for my teams. And as long as that’s the case I think can stick with it.
“When that goes it’s time to put ‘em up but I still have the competitive edge. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been successful with Munster and Ireland. I know what that feels like and I want it again.”