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“I Was An Emotional Player, I’d Like To Be The Same As A Coach”

Paul O'Connell

As a player Paul O’Connell saw it all, he captained Ireland at a Rugby World Cup, won Grand Slams with his country, was a three-time Lions tourist and lifted European Cups, on the field he ticked it all off.

But since the start of this season the former Munster, Ireland and Lions skipper has added to the illustrious list by coaching Stade Francais’ forwards in the Top 14.

A first management gig and a maiden experience with the French language is underway in Paris.

“I’m really enjoying it. I find it very difficult not speaking the language. To coach people you need to be able to build relationships and it’s very hard to build relationships when you can’t speak the language well,” the 39-year-old said.

“That is the most frustrating thing to me. I was a technical and quite an emotional player as well, and I’d like to be the same as a coach,” he added.

He’s not the only Irishman at Stade Jean Bouin, former Munster team-mate Mike Prendergast organises the backs at the club sitting in seventh place in the table.

They’re part of a global Irish diaspora of coaches.

Former international fly-half Ronan O’Gara is in charge of the Crusaders’ backs in New Zealand after four years with Stade’s Parisian rivals Racing 92.

Mark McCall has led English side Saracens to domestic and European titles and Allen Clarke and Michael Bradley head up management teams at the Ospreys in Wales and Zebre in Italy.

Until December, ex-Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman was coach at Welsh region, the Dragons having led Grenoble for five seasons with Prendergast also there.

“In Ireland we are very much in a bubble. To go out from your comfort zone and try something different is important. I wouldn’t say I’m particulary good at what I am doing yet. I hope to be good in the future,” the 115-time former international lock said.

“I think having this experience here, struggling with the language, hopefully will make me better and the players as well,” he added.

O’Connell is learning from some of the most experienced men in the business.

Stade Francais’ director of rugby Heyneke Meyer and the club’s defence coach John McFarland had a 67% win rate guiding the Sprinbgoks after claiming the 2007 Super Rugby title with the Bulls in South Africa.

Paul O'Connell Ronan O'Gara

But for now, one of Irish rugby’s most succesful players on the field is taking small, modest, holistic steps off it.

“I just want to know if (coaching) it is something that I really want to do,” O’Connell said.

“I don’t want to look back in 10 years and say ‘I wish I had a go at coaching'”


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Author: Marisa Kennedy

Marisa is a Digital Journalist with Pundit Arena. You can contact her at or on Twitter