Paul O'Connell recalls a story from Munster team-mate that illustrates the difference between rugby in Ireland and New Zealand
Published 02/11/2015 | 13:13
Following a World Cup where the southern hemisphere sides showed the supremacy over their northern counterparts, Paul O'Connell believes Ireland are still punching above their weight in light of the sporting context.
Joe Schmidt's side bowed out at the quarter-final stage to Argentina, along with Wales, Scotland and France to ensure a first-ever World Cup with all four semi-finalists from below the equator.
There have been widespread postmortems into the abject failure of the Six Nations sides – England failing to emerge from the pool stages – but the international lock believes that the competition for sports within Ireland means the country will always struggle at the elite level in rugby.
A sports-mad country, the Limerick man can see within his household the appeal in other sports.
"I even see it on my road at home, with my son and all his friends. They are all rugby mad now after the World Cup," he said.
"The soccer is back on now and they are beginning to play a little more soccer now. Soon it's going to be hurling and there is going to be more hurling."
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The All Blacks made it back-to-back World Cup titles at Twickenham and the 36-year-old recalled a tale from a former Munster team-mate to illustrate how it is a completely different landscape in New Zealand.
"People talk about New Zealand and their skill level, where they are at, but the fact is, to me, they are the Kilkenny of world rugby," he said.
"Tony Buckley, who played with Munster, was on exchange in New Zealand when he was younger and he said they went out for 10 minutes at small break and played tag rugby. They went out at big break and played full tackle rugby. Then they had rugby training after school.
"When we go for break, we probably played soccer, in Kilkenny they play hurling. I just think a New Zealander has probably accumulated hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours more rugby than an Irish kid has.
"That's why I'm disappointed we didn't make the semi-finals because we probably would have changed a little bit of that.
"It's part of New Zealand's culture. If rugby was our number one sport, henry Shefflin would be playing rugby, playing first centre.
"The best brains in hurling would be in rugby, you'd have Brian Cody involved in hurling. That's what they have in New Zealand and that's what we don't have up here."
The challenge O'Connell feels is to have rugby entrenched in the minds of children and that it will have a knock-on effect on the skill level of players in the country.
Considering the current landscape, he argues that the Six Nations champions are punching above their weight in the international arena.
"You want to see kids walking down the road with a rugby ball. We need to try and bridge that gap and I think the skill level will improve.
"I do think we punch way above our weight."
Paul O'Connell was speaking as a brand ambassador for PINERGY at the launch of PINERGYsmart which offers consumers a smart in-home display and a first market mobile app which, combined, can conveniently help consumers use less and pay less for their electricity.