O’Connell to play final home game for Ireland

Ireland’s Paul O’Connell has been named in the team to play Wales in
Dublin on Saturday in what will be his final game for his country on home soil.

The Munster and British and Irish Lions captain is already secured of a place
alongside the likes of Brian O’Driscoll as a modern-day icon of Irish
rugby after 102 Test appearances in the emerald green jersey.

Yet the 35-year-old colossus from Limerick will finally succumb to the inevitable
and call-time on his international career following the World Cup, before joining
European champions Toulon.

So while there is importance enough upon this latest World Cup warm-up game,
the last for both countries before final squads are named next week, there is
a flood of sentiment as well.

By a twist of fate, Wales are once again the opposition, just as they were
for lock forward O’Connell’s international debut 13 years ago and for his century
of caps in March.

“Paul is pretty handy in terms of keeping his emotions in check, he knows
what works for him,” said Ireland defence coach Les Kiss.

“I’ve coached him for seven years now and I speak on behalf of the other
coaches when I say that he’s an inspiration.

“He deserves a good send-off and hopefully we can deliver that. He’s
special person in terms of his leadership and what he does on the rugby pitch.

“But the type of person he is around the environment with all the stakeholders
in the game and the fans is brilliant,” Kiss added.

O’Connell scored on his debut against Wales, at Lansdowne Road, though
famously admitted he had no recollection of the moment having played for 25
minutes suffering concussion after tackling Craig Quinnell.

Concussion has once again become a hot topic in the build up to this game,
with George North set to return after an enforced five-month lay-off.

The Wales wing has not played since he suffered his third concussion in the
space of four months during an English Premiership game for Northampton.

North had previously suffered similar injuries after clashing heads in games
against both Australia and England.

“George has had a few issues with knocks to the head but hopefully he
has put that behind him,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.

“We’ve been very conservative with his recovery because his welfare has
been paramount. We have had to make sure George is right because we know that
his career could be at risk if he suffers one or two more serious knocks,”
the New Zealander added.

“But we’ve had two pretty full-on training sessions and I have no
doubt he will be up to speed.”

Both countries field far stronger teams than met in Cardiff three weeks ago,
when Six Nations champions Ireland won 35-21.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has made nine changes, including the recall of half-backs
Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray, as well as selecting Luke Fitzgerald in a
new-look midfield.

The last time Fitzgerald played centre for his country was against world champions
New Zealand in 2013 — the last time Ireland were defeated at home. That run
now stretches to nine games.

Wales have re-called Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts and Alun Wyn Jones, who
captains the team in place of Sam Warburton, rested with a shoulder injury.

“I’m expecting us to be pretty rusty but it’s an experienced
group and hopefully that familiarity will bring us through,” said Gatland.

Ireland

15. Rob Kearney ,
14. Dave Kearney ,
13. Luke Fitzgerald ,
12. Robbie Henshaw ,
11. Keith Earls ,
10. Jonathan Sexton ,
9. Conor Murray ,
1. Jack McGrath ,
2. Richardt Strauss ,
3. Nathan White ,
4. Iain Henderson ,
5. Paul O’Connell (capt) ,
6. Peter O’Mahony ,
7. Jordi Murphy ,
8. Jamie Heaslip

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