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Inside back: Where are they now?


(Former Ireland player)

Representing two countries in rugby is an honour that falls to few, but former Irish rugby captain Dion O'Cuinneagain is one of those players who achieved that distinction.

Born and raised in Cape Town, his father hailed from Co Wexford and a chance meeting with Syd Millar on the 1997 Lions tour led him to Ireland. The rest is history.

"It was a great opportunity for me and I just got straight into it," he recalls. "It's very hard not to enjoy professional rugby and the Irish set-up was very accommodating."

Upon arriving he signed up with Ulster and it didn't take long for him to nail down a starting spot on the national team. He made his debut in 1998 against South Africa. Ireland lost 37-13 but O'Cuinneagain still counts the game as his greatest rugby memory. He went on to make 19 appearances in the green shirt and finished up his career in 2001 with Munster.

"We had a middle-of-the-range team at the time and won about 50 per cent of our games. We weren't superstars by any means but we had some great players like Paul Wallace, Eric Miller, and Jeremy Davidson."

Prior to moving to Ireland, he had a successful career in his native country playing at various levels with Western Province and representing South Africa at schoolboy level and in the Hong Kong Sevens.

After he retired, O'Cuinneagain moved back to Cape Town to work as a doctor and he now practises at the Orthopaedic Clinic at the Sport Science Institute of South Africa.

"In my job I see a lot of rugby players and I find that injuries are probably the same as when I was playing but they are better managed now. Medicine in general has improved so players get back to games quicker and their recovery is better."

O'Cuinnegain won't be at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday to see Ireland and South Africa battle it out in the first game of the November tests but he will be watching it at home.

"I think Ireland will win. They are a team with a lot of experience. They are well balanced and over the last four years have been very strong at home. I think they are a very well coached team and they have great people involved with them like Declan Kidney and Gert Small.

"The Springboks have had a few problems with their management team over the last few months. It seems that there is a little bit of discord and I don't think they are the happiest team at the moment."

Sunday Independent