Paul O’ Connell attended the launch of the RaboDirect Pro 12 in Glasgow last week, standing with the other eleven Captains and provided soundbites to the excited media. Disturbingly for fans of rugby, not just Munster, O’Connell announced that he was considering standing down from the captain’s position.
Sure enough a few days afterwards, it was announced that the talisman of Munster and Irish rugby was relinquishing the captaincy, and that Dougie Howlett will lead the Munster squad this year. He is only the second overseas player to Captain the province, and the first ever back in the professional era.
O’Connell has declared himself fit and is looking forward to Munster’s opening game against Edinburgh on the 1st September, although with the IRFU player management programme, he is likely to be available by round three.
O’Connell was injured in a Pro12 game against provincial rivals Ulster, and subsequently missed the Irish summer tour to New Zealand. With the injuries sustained on his knees, the 32-year-old will no doubt struggle to maintain his match fitness and his ability to dominate the loose, and only Paul knows whether this is an added reason for his decision on the captaincy.
What we do know is that Paul is Munster through and through: the faithful love him and he loves them right back. Munster’s line out and scrum are so strong due to the combinations of O’Connell / Ryan and O’Connell / O’Callaghan that teams can only look on with relative envy.
As a Captain, his name does not look out of place with the likes of Richie McCaw, Martin Johnson, Michael Lynagh and Gavin Hastings, and the Irish team has achieved great things with him in the side. A ferocious player in red or green, he is a Rugby fans’ favourite.
Is he still the beast of Thomond? Absolutely. The sheer presence of O’Connell on or off the pitch demands respect.