O’Connell to win 100th Test cap against Wales

Paul O'Connell will finish his playing career in Toulon

Ireland’s Paul O’Connell should win his 100th international test cap this weekend when Ireland play Wales in Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium.

Thirty-five-year-old lock O’Connell was once referred to as being injury-prone but for almost 13 years has been part of the Irish forward pack.

O’Connell, despite the battered features and the former thick thatch of red hair having thinned to almost nothing, is a rugby man, past and present, who topped a recent poll of 1000 Irish women with 23% they would like to go to bed with — ‘BOD’ came third with 17%.

A surprising finding perhaps none more so than to O’Connell who is happily married to his long-time love Emily — whom he married in Auch, France, in July 2013 — and with whom he has a four year-old-son Paddy and a daughter Lola born last November.

O’Connell, though, has always defied expectations.

His career started in that manner as having developed a reputation as a top class swimmer he decided after jumping over the stadium wall to go and watch Munster play a game that he would like a go at the rough and tumble of the sport instead.

While O’Driscoll and his ‘glamour boys’ from Leinster played the lively cavalier rugby pleasing to the eye, O’Connell drove a pack-oriented game for Munster, relying largely on Ronan O’Gara’s boot for the points.

It delivered them two European Cups (2006/08) and it was only after that Leinster finally clicked it took more than beautiful rugby to win European silverware – since then the Leinstermen have won three, two under present Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

Schmidt, who had no hesitation in choosing O’Connell as his skipper for the titlewinning 2014 Six Nations side despite his injuries (various knee, groin and ankle problems had through the years caused him to miss many matches) and his age, sums up O’Connell’s class in harking back to a word from his homeland.

“He has an incredible amount of respect. A word that sums him up is that he’s just got ‘Mana’, ” said New Zealander Schmidt back in November after seeing off the Springboks at Lansdowne Road.

“A guy who does not know how to give up. When he’s done, he delivers again. Not many have the mental capacity that Paul O’Connell has. There are a lot of guys who physically get into good shape, but he’s one of the most mentally tough players I’ve been involved with. I’m not sure myself how he does it. “

O’Connell’s importance to any side is such that when on his third British and Irish Lions tour, in 2013 to Australia, he was asked to stay on by the coach Warren Gatland even though he broke his arm in the first Test.

O’Driscoll bowed out after the memorable win over France in Paris to clinch the 2014 Six Nations crown — but for O’Connell the farewell could be even more glorious.

For Ireland are two wins away from only their third Five/Six Nations Grand Slam (O’Connell being part of the last one that achieved that in 2009 in Cardiff) and the World Cup beckons in England later this year.

O’Connell — who experienced the disappointment of the 2007 World Cup catastrophe when they went out in the group stage — dismisses talk of his retirement.

“This could be the best Ireland team I’ve played with, ” he said.

“I don’t know whether this will be my last Six Nations. I’ve learnt to look after my body better in training and on the pitch in recent years.

“All I want to do is get to the World Cup in good shape. Then we will see. “

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