Former Australian rugby coach and Pat Cash lookalike Robbie Deans was effusive in his praise for Ireland today. He takes charge of the Barbarians team who will attempt to bring about Ireland's first home defeat since 2013 in Limerick on May 28.
He reserved his greatest compliment for the man who the Irish coach claims exudes 'mana'. Paul O'Connell is, in Deans' estimation, 'probably the most influential player in world rugby'.
He gets better by the year. He is now probably the most influential player in world rugby, but in Ireland’s case it seems to me to go beyond one individual, although Paul has clearly had a huge influence on the players around him.
Ahead of the Barbarians game, he gushed about the progress Ireland have made under the great Schmidt and now eyes them as genuine World Cup contenders.
It’s my clear view this is going to be the most competitive World Cup to date and obviously Ireland are well positioned. They’re purring nicely, playing some good rugby, they have a genuine ambition and belief they can be there at the end and certainly the teams in the southern hemisphere have every reason to treat their challenge with the utmost respect.
Deans has enjoyed a stellar coaching career at club level, coaching the Crusaders to five Super Rugby titles in the noughties. However, his time with Australia was marked by frustration, where the team promised much but fell short too often.