Paul O’Connell to sign two-year deal with Toulon
Ireland captain to confirm next week that he will join European champions after the World Cup
Paul O’Connell will join Toulon until 2017 when the World Cup finishes after 14 years playing with Munster. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.
As has become increasingly apparent, Paul O’Connell is to finish his playing career with a two-year stay at Toulon. French sources have confirmed to The Irish Times that a deal has been agreed with the Irish captain for him to join the three-in-a-row European champions after the World Cup for the remainder of the 2015/’16 season and the 2016/’17 season.
Toulon identified O’Connell as the kind of iconic European player they wanted to fill the void left by Jonny Wilkinson’s retirement at least over a month ago and they invariably get their man.
He is expected to make an announcement next week confirming his intentions. French sources also indicate O’Connell may even travel to the port city on the Cote d’Azur next week to undergo a medical.
The move is pending approval by both Munster and the IRFU, given O’Connell has another year on his contract remaining. Munster are agreeable to the switch while it would be somewhat churlish of the union to stand in his way after he captains Ireland at the World Cup. He owes Munster and Ireland nothing. Indeed, after 14 seasons representing both Munster and Ireland, it is they who owe him a huge debt.
O’Connell has often talked of his wish to play in France, and recently spoke of his desire to step out of the Munster “bubble” for a while, and with their proven track record of managing game time for players in their 30s, Toulon’s policy of squad rotation will suit the 35-year-old. He has a young family and it could be a beneficial experience with a view to him stepping into coaching.
While all the fanfare will revolve around the big fella in the number five jersey, in keeping with his highly efficient, if under-stated, season with Munster, Andrew Smith will also bid adieu after this Saturday’s Pro12 final.
Despite missing two months of the season with a knee injury, Smith has effectively been an ever-present, scoring five tries in his 20 games. Munster’s winning ratio has been 72 per cent with him in the team, and 50 per cent without him.
Now he too has the chance to finish off his time with Munster on an ideal note. “Finishing my time here with a trophy would be massive and that’s what we want to do.
“It’s been a great year with the guy and the fans. It’s been incredible to experience the atmosphere here at those big European Cup games. It is nothing like anything you’d experience back home. It’s amazing and they are a memory that will last forever.”
He’ll move on with regrets, but no bitterness, and understands that it was always likely to be a one-year deal. “I probably came over thinking that I might hopefully stay but I wasn’t sure how it would go and what I would have planned for myself for myself and the family. Whatever happens, happens, and I’m happy with that.”