Contrary to reports suggesting Paul O’Connell could retire after next year’s World Cup, his central IRFU contract has him bound to play for Munster and Ireland, if selected, until June 2016.
The Ireland captain signed a two-year extension last August but the issue, it seems, is the 35-year-old’s durability.
O’Connell recently stated: “I don’t really know how long I can keep on going for. I want to play in the World Cup and be in the best shape possible but I am still undecided if I will play on after the tournament.
“It is something that plays on my mind a little bit. I don’t dread the day, but I don’t think it was ever my intention to keep on playing this long. I certainly won’t be putting my hand up for Lions selection in 2017. I’ll be long gone from the game by then, believe me.”
Unless dictated by injury, the union, and not the individual, decide when the end has arrived at international level.
Previously, in a television interview during the 2011 World Cup, Ronan O’Gara was adamant his international career was weeks from ending despite his contract clearly stating otherwise. O’Gara subsequently played on, featuring in the 2013 Six Nations.
O’Connell played the first of 103 Test matches against Wales in 2002, when he was forced off with concussion after scoring a try. His longevity has perhaps been assisted by some injury-enforced career breaks and Ireland’s player management scheme.
His longest international hiatus was from March 2012 to June 2013, which included an entire Six Nations campaign, but he returned to his peerless best just in time to make the Lions tour of Australia.
He was rested for Munster's St Stephen's Day victory over Leinster but should return, along with Conor Murray, Simon Zebo and Peter O'Mahony, for tomorrow's Pro12 match against Connacht in Galway.
Connacht welcome back their international contingent with
Rodney Ah You
expected to start as Pat Lam’s side seek to avoid three interprovincial defeats in a row.
It has also been confirmed that Marty Moore has agreed a one-year deal with Leinster, dovetailing with Mike Ross recently signing a one-year central contract.
This, understandably, appears to be a case of the union hedging their bets. Ross, who recently turned 35, and Moore, 13 years his junior, shared tighthead duties for both province and country last season, with Moore seemingly arriving as the heir apparent until shoulder surgery slowed his progress in recent months.
The Dubliner will probably not feature against Ulster on Saturday but can properly begin his season away to Cardiff on January 10th.
Meanwhile, Leinster flanker Kevin McLaughlin has been ruled out for 12 weeks following shoulder surgery.