Thursday 14 December 2017

O'Connell in likely Cardiff swansong

The tremendous three will become the fabulous four when Paul O'Connell joins Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara and John Hayes as Ireland's international centurions this afternoon.

The Ireland captain has accumulated enough memories to know "experience counts" on a day Ireland can extend their winning streak to a national record eleven and move to within one step of a Grand Slam.

"It's something you probably don't respect when you're young and when you're older you realise there's a lot to be said for it," he stated, about the importance of experience.

'The Big E' is earned over time, something O'Connell is precious about as the lock looks to get back to where he once was as a specimen.

"I think there are certain things I continue to improve. Physically, I'm not where I was and that's the challenge, to get to where I was at 25, 26," he said.

One place he has been is The Millennium Stadium. It was where Munster made their Heineken Cup breakthrough against Biarritz Olympique in 2006 and sealed their legacy there against Toulouse in 2008.

On the international front, it was where Ireland completed their 2009 Grand Slam odyssey, O'Connell wheeling around in demented ecstasy as Stephen Jones penalty kick dropped short.

"It is an incredible stadium. Some great memories but some tough one's as well," probably referring to the 2002 Heineken Cup final defeat to Leicester Tigers and 'The Hand of (Neil) Back.'

"There was obviously the Grand Slam game. Towards the end I genuinely thought we'd lost it.

"I was over the moon when the kick came up short and we won it."

Six years later, O'Connell is back to the hearth of Welsh rugby, maybe for the last time.

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