Friday 15 November 2019

Robbie Henshaw: Paul O'Connell will be missed in Ireland camp

Robbie Henshaw hailed Paul O'Connell, pictured, as much for his sense of humour as his steely focus
Robbie Henshaw hailed Paul O'Connell, pictured, as much for his sense of humour as his steely focus

Ireland will miss Paul O'Connell's off-the-cuff stand-up comedy just as much as his originality in pre-match war cries, according to Robbie Henshaw.

O'Connell's World Cup and Test career both came to a close on Tuesday when Ireland confirmed their captain must undergo surgery on a torn hamstring.

The 35-year-old drew global praise for his 108-cap run, with Wales coach Rob Howley branding the gritty lock a "world icon".

Connacht centre Henshaw explained how O'Connell could step straight from a tear-jerking team talk to a sharp-witted quip.

"The first time I met Paulie he was so welcoming to me as one of the youngest players in the squad," said the 22-year-old Henshaw.

"He always took me under his wing, always helped me around the place.

"He always gave me that bit of advice but he wasn't too intense either, he could always switch off and crack a few jokes as well. He'd have a bit of craic with you around the dinner table.

"I'd always loved and admired that side to him, that he wasn't all intense, all work, but he was good craic off the pitch as well."

When Ireland saw off Scotland 40-10 at Murrayfield to retain their Six Nations title in March, O'Connell and company were staggered by the post-match celebrations inside the stadium.

Supporters were allowed to watch England's clash with France from the stands, before toasting the Ireland players lifting the trophy.

O'Connell later branded the nightclub atmosphere as reminiscent of Henshaw's 21st birthday party, purposely refusing to expand to let his joke ruminate.

Some seven months later, and in a bid to highlight O'Connell's mischievous streak, Henshaw finally confirmed that the Munster stalwart never made it to his landmark birthday celebration.

"He had a little look down at me as he said that," said Henshaw.

"I was at the back of the room when he was in the press conference and I gave him a bit of a wink.

"No he wasn't at my 21st, he was over in Argentina with Ireland actually!

"But that's just an example of the craic side to him, the fun side. We're going to miss him."

Just as O'Connell could think on his feet to lampoon a team-mate in a press conference, so Henshaw revealed he was able to concoct new ways to inspire his players as kick-off closed in.

"Any time he spoke he just managed to say the right thing, every time," said Henshaw.

"He'd never repeat himself, it was always something new and always catchy, you'd never lose focus on what he was saying.

"That's one thing that I admired him as well for, just every time he spoke you'd hear a pin drop.

"He had everyone's full attention and everything was always nailed on for everybody."

PA Media

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