Monday 11 December 2017

'Players have wept in the changing room when Paul O'Connell has spoken'

English paper The Times pays tribute to Ireland captain.

The Times says that Ireland captain Paul O'Connell is one of the
The Times says that Ireland captain Paul O'Connell is one of the "great leaders in world rugby"
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

The Times has written a stirring piece today on Irish captain Paul O'Connell, describing the Munster lock as "astonishing".

The 34 year-old has been highly impressive in the victories over Italy and France in the Six Nations as they host Stuart Lancaster's side next weekend with Grand Slam and potentially championship aspirations on the line.

Against France last time out O'Connell made 14 tackles as the home side ground out victory and Paul Ackford in The Times has spoken in glowing terms of the inspirational captain.

"The lock is the heartbeat of the Ireland side," he writes. He was even when Brian O'Driscoll was captain. As a rule of thumb, Ireland and Munster win when he plays and lose when he doesn't."

The article delves into O'Connell's sporting background, but does suggest that the one weakness in his game is ball carrying.

"He goes to ground too easily," Ackford suggests and says that this facet of his game caused friction with Joe Schmidt at the beginning of his international tenure.

However that is the only blot in the Limerick native's copybook and the article puts forward the argument that you "probably have to play with O'Connell to understand his greatness."

His ability as an orator is lauded and the writer is acutely aware of the incredible influence that he possesses over his team-mates, even offering a tale of a highly charged dressing room to illustrate the point.

"He is an astonishingly gifted motivator, blessed with an instinctive ability to find the words or phrases that will unlock potential or energy in teams."

"There have been times in changing rooms before games when players have wept when O'Connell has spoken. That facility doesn't come across in post-match television interview. Then he merely ticks the articulate, thoughtful boxes. But before the battle, and in the heat of it, his words are powerful."

Spoken alongside the likes of Martin Johnson, Richie McCaw and François Pienaar as one of "the great leaders in world rugby", Ackford also acknowledges the fact that O'Connell is well able to handle a physical approach from opponents looking to ruffle his feathers.

"You just have to google an old scrap with Jamie Cudmore, of Clermont Auvergne, to ascertain that the man can handle himself."

It is clear the Irish captain is held in as high esteem across the Channel as he is on these shores, with the player himself hopeful of continuing Ireland's charge to reclaim the Six Nations, and possibly claim a coveted Grand Slam.

Read more: Tony Ward: I'm not sure I would play rugby if I was starting out now

Read more: Five things we have learned after two rounds of the 2015 Six Nations

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