Last week we spoke to former Ireland and Leinster second row Malcolm O’Kelly, about the upcoming Help For Heroes match at Twickenham. O’Kelly’s passion behind the cause came across very clearly during the 10 minute phone call, his excitement at getting back on the pitch clearly audible as we discussed getting behind such an important charity.
“A couple of us from Ireland are coming over for it, Jason Leonard has been in touch with me. It’s a great cause. As Irish people, the armed forces is not really something that we have but we’re very aware, personally having represented my country, of the importance of representing and defending your country, and those guys deserve a lot of credit for going and doing what they do. If we can contribute in any way to helping them out then that’s fantastic.”
“I’ve been retired for about 18 months, so it’s a daunting prospect to put the boots back on again running out at Twickenham. But I’ve had some good experiences there beating England in the past, it’s a great ground with great tradition so I’m looking forward to it.”
Discussion also turned towards the Rugby World Cup, with O’Kelly assessing the Irish performance in New Zealand as disappointing. “They went into the tournament in poor form and turned it around against Australia and Ireland. To be harsh I think they underestimated Wales, lacking the physical edge. It was a massive opportunity to avoid New Zealand and teams they’ve struggled against in the past, but that’s the World Cup. Every challenge pushes you to your limits, and to be fair Wales were excellent in that match and were in good form going into it, whilst France had no form and got all the way to the final! It was an intriguing World Cup, if not a massively entertaining one.”
There was however no doubting that the eventual champions deserved their title. “New Zealand were by far the best side in the competition. It was quite a sight to see them suffer from nerves, and even with that incredible run of bad luck at 10, but they just have so much talent in New Zealand that they were able to come through it, which I don’t think any other country could have done.”
With a lot of Ireland’s players beginning to move on, O’Kelly also pinpointed which players would be coming through to fill in the gaps. “We’ve seen some good young talent come through already, the likes of Sean O’Brien and Johnny Sexton now have that experience at the top level, and Conor Murray came through during the World Cup which was great. In terms of players coming through off the radar you’ve got Eoin O’Malley, who is a centre at Leinster getting a lot more rugby now Brian (O’Driscoll) has to look after himself a bit more.” (O’Driscoll was ironically ruled out for six months yesterday.)
“Donnacha O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell aren’t getting any younger, so I’d look at guys like Devin Toner. He’s 24 and a huge fella with a few caps at this level, and there’s Ian Nagle over at Munster who’s very athletic and has a lot of promise. But O’Connell and guys like Leo Cullen are still ruling the roost, so the younger lads need to be exposed at international level.”
Heroes Rugby Challenge supported by J.P. Morgan, Saturday 3 December 2011 at Twickenham Stadium, kicks off at 1630. Ticket prices start at £30 for adults, £10 for under 16’s, and are available through Ticketmaster www.ticketmaster.co.uk or by calling 0844 847 2492 For more information please visit: www.heroesrugby.org.uk