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How Can Munster And Ireland Replace Paul O'Connell?

How Can Munster And Ireland Replace Paul O'Connell?
Conor O'Leary
By Conor O'Leary
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Can Anyone Replace O'Connell?

Irish rugby lived in fear for two plus years worrying about who would replace Brian O'Driscoll in the centres for Ireland and Leinster. So far, things have gone pretty well with Robbie Henshaw and Luke Fitzgerald stepping up, while the naturalisation of Jared Payne gives Schmidt options at filling O'Driscoll's giant boots.

But a bigger headache and worry that is on the horizon is who will replace Paul O'Connell? Can O'Connell be replaced? Who will give Ireland the technical ability in the lineout or the manic aggression. Who will strike fear in the opposition pack, while exuding a calming influence amongst the Irish and Munster pack?

What needs to be replaced? O'Connell's lineout ability is the stuff of legend. The plaudits he received from Victor Matfield when South Africa arrived last November, highlights how well respected he is outside of Ireland. O'Connell's knack of stealing opposition ball at crucial times has secured some famous victories for both Munster and Ireland.

His leadership qualities are the stuff of legend. He is the best leader Irish rugby has had since Willie John McBride. O'Connell should take his place in the pantheon of great Irish leaders with Roy Keane and Diarmuid O'Sullivan. Paul O'Connell is everything you'd want in a rugby captain - fantastic ability when talking to the referees, leading by example on the pitch, making everyone around him better, and team talks that become folklore:

Who Will Replace O'Connell?

So who can replace him? Can anyone replace him. In a word? No. Paul O'Connell is an icon. No one person can replicate all of the qualities he brings to a team. Not one person. But a few players could, combined.

In the short term, Devin Toner or Dan Tuohy for Ireland could give Martin Moore the backup required in the scrum. Toner's lineout knowledge has been praised by O'Connell in the past, and you'd imagine that with a 6'10'' lock you'd be heavily fancied to at least retain our own ball at lineout time.


Munster's Dave Foley is a very real contender to replace him internationally as well. Foley is probably the best candidate to replace O'Connell's workload and stamina. O'Connell is consistently at the top of the tackles made charts for Ireland and Munster, and Foley has a similar tackle rate which would be vital.


The problem with Tuohy, Foley, Toner, or Iain Henderson is that none of them strike you as a leader in any sense of the word. That's not a knock on them - they are each fine players - but their fortes are elsewhere in the game. This leaves a massive Paul O'Connell shaped hole of leadership in Irish rugby.

Peter O'Mahony appears to be the heir to O'Connell's manic aggression throne. O'Mahony's aggression has never been in question, but he has really matured since becoming the Munster captain, and channels his aggression in a much more positive manner than before. He still has some things to learn as a leader, but that might be better served when there is no O'Connell on the pitch as a safety net.

replace O'Connell

O'Mahony leads by example and it's not hard to envisage him having a similar on-field influence to a team that O'Connell has. However, he still lacks the intricacies involved in talking to a referee, and could use other leaders in the team to help him much like O'Driscoll or O'Connell did before him with players like O'Gara, Sexton and Rory Best. Players like Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy, Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw and Rob Kearney need to keep stepping up and taking responsibility for Ireland and Munster (where applicable).

Donnacha Ryan will be a vital cog to Irish rugby if he ever gets back to fitness, but he is surprisingly old at 31 years old.

What happens in the long term? Are Ireland and Munster producing second rows at all? A number of years ago it seemed that the fabled Munster second row production machine was in full flow with Ian Nagle and Donnacha Ryan. That's slowed down in recent years, with only Dave Foley actually making the leap into Munster's first team.


Across the country there are several young Irish second rows that are capable of making the step up to international rugby in the future. Connacht's Mick Kearney, Quinn Roux, and Ultan Dillane are all under 25 and have excelled dramatically in the last 12 months. Kearney's form has him on the fringes of an Ireland call up, and another year or two of development could see him as a real contender to replace O'Connell. Roux becomes Irish qualified at the start of next season, and having signed up with Connacht until 2017, he could also be banging on the door for Ireland if he continues his form. Roux was a highly rated signing when he joined Leinster, but injuries and a loss of confidence spoiled his time in Dublin.

Further afield, Ulster's academy lock Alan O'Connor has been doing well in recent game time, while there are high hopes for Leinster's Ross Molony and Tadhg Beirne. Moloney was on the Irish Under 20's last season, and is very similar to Leo Cullen in his play. He is technically excellent at the lineout, leads by example and plays very intelligently. He could be an outside shot to replace O'Connell in the national jersey in the long term.

Whatever happens, it'll be sad to see the giant O'Connell leave the professional era. Ireland and Munster will feel his loss for many years to come, but like Willie John McBride, his legend will live on.

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