The greatest second-rows of all time: Paul O’Connell
It is with good reason that Ireland's Paul O'Connell is considered one of the greatest ever second-rows
Major teams: Munster
Test span: 2002-2015
Ireland caps: 108 (99 starts)
Lions caps: 7 (7 starts)
Test points: 40 (8T)
Superman heads to bed each night wearing Paul O’Connell pyjamas, or so the story goes down in Limerick. Certainly, Clark Kent’s alter ego might be frightened to don anything else.
According to Ronan O’Gara, O’Connell’s long-term lieutenant with Munster and Ireland, it is a relentless dedication that characterises the flame-haired lock.
“Paul is all about standards,” explains the former fly-half. “I’ve seen what difference one individual can make to an organisation.”
O’Connell exudes an intelligent but fiercely authoritative charisma. Inspirational leadership underpins a staggering honours list – two Heineken Cups, a century of Ireland caps, three Lions tours and another trio of Six Nations titles including the 2009 Grand Slam.
Standing 6ft 6in tall, physical presence contributes something primal to O’Connell’s aura. One changing room address to his Ireland team-mates prior to the 2007 clash with France has had over a million views on YouTube.
In it, he urged “manic aggression”, asking colleagues to pose themselves the question: “Did I put the fear of God into anyone?”
Returning from a debilitating back injury to give a Man of the Match display for Munster against Harlequins in the 2013 Heineken Cup quarter-final, O’Connell showed himself ready for a third Lions tour to Australia after heading to New Zealand in 2005 and captaining the 2009 South Africa trip.
In the wake of that monstrous effort, he said, “I felt like an amateur today” – a declaration of the burning pride in representing his province.
A 31-13 loss to Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12 final last May ended O’Connell’s Munster career with a solitary Celtic League title.
Toulon would be benefiting greatly from the Irishman’s expertise had a hamstring injury, sustained in Ireland’s pool stage match against France at the Rugby World Cup, not hampered his opportunity. He bowed out of international duty after 13 seasons in the Ireland side since a try-scoring debut against Wales.
In retirement, O’Connell’s trademark commitment is sure to enrich his provincial side Munster, as he takes on a part-time mentoring role within the club’s academy set up.