Paul O’Connell Admits One Of His Biggest Regrets From The World Cup
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When contemplating the Rugby World Cup just past, Paul O’Connell’s mind drifts back to the famous photo taken outside Mass in Kilkenny where 150 hurleys stood propped up against the side of the church.
O’Connell contends that a semi-final berth could have gone some way towards changing this culture, helping rugby occupy a more central place in Irish culture.
People talk about New Zealand and their skill level but the fact is, to me, they are the Kilkenny of world rugby. Tony Buckley was on exchange in New Zealand when he was younger and he said they went out for ten minutes at small break and played tag rugby, they went out at big break, they played full tackle rugby and then they’d rugby training after school. When we have small break/big break we probably play soccer. In Kilkenny, they probably play hurling.
I just think a New Zealander has accumulated probably hundreds or maybe even thousands more hours of rugby than an Irish kid has. That’s why I’m disappointed we didn’t make the semi-finals, the finals because we probably would have changed that a little.
I just think it’s part of New Zealand’s culture. And the Kilkenny hurling thing is something I keep going back to. If rugby was our no.1 sport, Henry Shefflin would be playing rugby, he’d be playing first centre. The best brains in hurling would be in rugby. You’d have Brian Cody involved in rugby and that’s what they have in New Zealand and that’s what we don’t have up here. For everyone involved in rugby, that’s the challenge. You want to see kids walking down the road with a rugby ball.
You look at that photo of the 150 hurleys outside Mass in Kilkenny and that’s what rugby is to New Zealand. We need to try and bridge that gap. And that’s where the skills will improve and that’s the way we can get better because I do think we punch well above our weight.