Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal has confirmed that Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has signed for the European Champions. He will join up with his new teammates when the World Cup ends in October.
O’Connell was released a year early from his Munster and IRFU contract and it is no surprise that his next move is to France and to Toulon. In January 2014 he told BBC Sport that he had thoughts of playing abroad: “It is something that would interest me, and it is a big regret of mine.
It’s a shame to think we had this great opportunity to go and play in France and live in France, learn the language and experience something different.”
There had been rumours that the deal could be scuppered due to an old shoulder injury but the signing was confirmed to Irish television station RTÉ by Boudjellal.
The Limerick native has been capped 101 times by Ireland and has also gone on three British and Irish Lions tours, captaining the squad’s South Africa tour in 2009. O’Connell will help fill the void left at Toulon by the retirements of Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams.
Earlier this month O’Connell announced that he would retire from International rugby after the World Cup and both Ireland and Munster now have to somehow go about replacing such an iconic and influential player.
Ireland are well served in the second row department with Ulster’s Iain Henderson long touted as the heir to O’Connell’s throne. Munster on the other hand will find it more difficult to cope with the loss of such an important player.
Munster head coach Anthony Foley admitted that they are likely to look at the foreign market to help replace O’Connell but added that the province are well stocked in the second row position: “We have the likes of Dave Foley, Billy Holland, Donnacha Ryan.
You still have Donncha O’Callaghan, you’ve Sean McCarthy and John Madigan coming through too so we have players we’ve earmarked for progression. But in the competitions that we play in you need top players as well and Paul O’Connell is a top player. If you lose him you need to replace him.”
The 6 ft 6 in second row came through the ranks at legendary Limerick club Young Munster and early on his career he showed an innate ability to steal opposition lineouts, a skill that has served him very well throughout his long career.
Soon he was on Munster’s radar, making his competitive debut away to Edinburgh in August 2001. Six months later he made his Irish debut against Wales in the Six Nations scoring a try in a 54-10 win.
Despite suffering some career threatening injuries in the last few years, O’Connell, when fit has played superbly for Munster and Ireland culminating in him receiving this season’s RBS Six Nations Player of the Championship and IRUPA’s (Ireland Rugby Union Players’ Association) player of the year for the second time.
O’Connell has had a glittering career trophy wise winning a Grand Slam, three Six Nations Championships, four Triple Crowns, two Heineken Cup’s, three Celtic League’s and one Celtic Cup and played 178 in total for Munster. His final game was the Pro 12 Final defeat against the Glasgow Warriors.