Paul O’Connell appointed Ireland forwards coach
Former captain joins Andy Farrell’s coaching ticket with the 2021 Six Nations looming
Paul O’Connell, pictured with James Ryan, has joined Ireland’s coaching staff. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
News that Paul O’Connell has joined the Irish coaching ticket as the national team’s forwards coach will excite players and fans alike prior to the Six Nations.
O’Connell’s new remit comes into effect immediately as he works alongside scrum coach John Fogarty, with Simon Easterby to concentrate on the role of defence coach.
The appointment of the former Munster, Irish and Lions captain comes after working with the Irish squad in an advisory capacity during the pre-lockdown Six Nations last year. Clearly, both parties believe a full time roll is a good fit.
Granted, O’Connell’s coaching experience is limited. After retiring, he worked with the Munster academy and then as an assistant to Noel McNamara with the Irish Under-20s before taking up the role of forwards coach with Stade Francais. However, he walked one year into a three-year deal by mutual consent after expressing disappointment that his time there ended prematurely.
“Unfortunately, there were things in the club I didn’t like and I felt I couldn’t stay,” he said at the time. “That’s a bit of a disappointment. Three years in France, living and coaching, it would have been a perfect experience and I would be in full knowledge whether coaching is something I wanted to do for another 20 years or not.”
As to whether a coaching career was for him, with typical candour O’Connell freely admitted in January of last year: “I’m still a little uncertain. I don’t really know.
“The work hours are absolutely massive when you are coaching,” he also confessed, adding that such are the intense demands of the job that for all its enjoyment striking a life balance between work, family and staying healthy was a “challenge.”
An impressive pundit with the BBC during their coverage of the Six Nations and the 2019 World Cup with ITV, it’s quite possible that O’Connell is more suited to working with an international team.
As well as his technical knowledge of the game and his abilities as a communicator with players, he will demand the highest of standards and given his voice and mindset, his influence will surely extend beyond his remit as forwards coach. In all of this and more, it also looks a clever appointment by Andy Farrell.
O’Connell commands respect after a stellar playing career during which he won two Heineken Cups with Munster, played 108 times for Ireland, captaining his country 31 times. As well as being part of the 2009 Grand Slam, he played in the 20145 and 2015 Six Nations titles, captaining Ireland in the latter. He also played on three Lions tours in 2005, 2009 and 2013, captaining the Lions to South Africa in ‘09.
“I am really looking forward to working with Andy and the rest of the coaching group,” commented O’Connell in an IRFU statement this morning. “I worked with Simon as a player and am looking forward to working with him again. It’s an exciting young group of players to be involved with and there are talented forwards coming through across the four provinces that will no doubt be pushing for international selection in the coming months and years.”
Farrell commented: “Paul brings a wealth of rugby knowledge with him and as forwards coach he will have responsibility for the forwards including the line-out working alongside John (Fogarty). He will also be another strong voice and leader within the group.”
“Simon (Easterby) has a real passion for defence and having developed Ireland’s forward play over the past six years with the additional responsibility for the defence over the past 12 months, he will now be able to focus his energy and rugby intellect on this area of our game.
“The weekend’s Interpro games and the European fixtures in the weeks ahead will give players the opportunity to push for selection for the Six Nations squad. The squad will not be selected until after the Champions Cup Round 4 fixtures have been completed.”
Farrell as head coach, Johnny Sexton as captain, and now O’Connell as forwards coach. The Irish HPC and dressing-room certainly won’t be for the faint-hearted.