Tuesday 21 November 2017

Paul O'Connell backs project player policy – 'if character is top-class'

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell during the Ireland rugby squad announcement for the two-test summer tour of Argentina in June. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell during the Ireland rugby squad announcement for the two-test summer tour of Argentina in June. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Paul O'Connell
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IRELAND captain Paul O'Connell says he has no problem with the IRFU's policy of recruiting players from the southern hemisphere with the intention of them playing for Ireland after three seasons after qualifying through residency.

Joe Schmidt yesterday named 'special project' player Robbie Diack and three uncapped players in his 30-man squad for next month's tour of Argentina, and the South African duo could follow Richardt Strauss in making their Ireland debuts against the Pumas.

The issue has caused controversy in recent months as the provinces continue to recruit young players from New Zealand and South Africa, with Connacht-bound centre Bundee Aki stating his ambition to play for Ireland before he had ever set foot in the country.

However, O'Connell said: "If you can get real good guys of top-class character, excellent players sprinkled here and there in places where you have a weakness, I don't see a problem with it.

"I can understand why people would have an issue with it, with guys taking maybe an Irish player's place but as long as it is kept to a minimum and they are really top-class players and guys of top-class character I don't have a problem with it."

Herring and Diack are joined by fellow uncapped players Kieran Marmion and James Cronin, while Simon Zebo and Dave Kilcoyne make the plane after not playing for Ireland all season.

Ian Madigan was the big loser at yesterday's squad announcement as he will go on the Emerging Ireland tour to Romania with Munster's Ian Keatley.

Schmidt has given Sean O'Brien, Cian Healy, Tommy Bowe, Dan Tuohy and Gordon D'Arcy the summer off.

Meanwhile, Brian O'Driscoll underwent scans on the injury he suffered in Saturday's Pro12 semi-final in the Sports Surgery Clinic yesterday as he goes through the return to play protocols

Munster are set to confirm their new back-room team tomorrow, with former hooker Jerry Flannery the favourite to be named forwards coach, with Brian Walsh set for a role and Michael Bradley believed to be among the contenders for the backs job along with Sharks backs coach Sean Everitt.

Irish Independent

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