Rugby legends preview All Blacks clash at Off The Ball Heineken Rugby Club roadshow

Off The Ball hosted another Heineken Rugby Club roadshow at the Olympia Theatre, ahead one of the biggest fixtures in the 2018 Irish rugby calendar, as Ireland prepare to take on the All Blacks, this Saturday.

Three former Irish captains – Keith Wood, Paul O’Connell and Off The Ball’s very own Brian O’Driscoll – were joined by their former teammate, Alan Quinlan, and All Blacks legend, Justin Marshall, to preview a game that could mark the beginning of a defining 12-months, for Irish rugby.

Kicking off the show, Paul O’Connell gave Off The Ball presenter, Joe Molloy, and the 1,200-strong audience an insight into his decision to move to France, to take on a coaching position with Stade Francais:

“I enjoyed the 20s World Cup and the experience with the 20s, but I decided that if something really interesting came up, I’d go and do it, because I had gotten to the stage where I was getting an edge to go and do something – whether it was in rugby or not. If you had asked me three years before I retired, I would have said 100%, I want to be a coach, but over time, as we had kids, I’d watched so many coaches grow old before me, I saw the amount of hours it was taking – you know it’s a tough thing to do with a family. But, I just decided it was time to give it a shot and give it a shot away from home. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But I don’t want to be there in 10-years time, wondering if I should’ve gotten back into the game.”

Speaking about how the position arose, Paul said: “The phone just rang. My friend Mike Prendergast was in Stade Francais already. They rang and asked about maybe consulting with line-outs a little bit. I said no, that isn’t really for me. Between a few conversations then, he said look, there’s probably a full-time role here, if you’re interested. I said I would be interested, we got talking and we came to an arrangement.”

Commenting on recent comments made by Ronan O’Gara – during an Off The Ball interview – about teaming up with Paul O’Connell, to take on the coaching set-up at Munster in the future, Paul said: “It would be great, I’m sure. For me, to go and do what Leo is doing, or Felix is doing, or Jerry Flannery is doing, to coach here in the province you played in is a massive leap. You really need to know, this is what you want to do, because it’s going to be hard. You know, you’re so committed to the province anyway. So, for me, the question is about whether you want to coach full-time or not. It’s not a question of who you do the job with.”

Regaling the audience with stories of his time as the All Blacks scrumhalf, Justin Marshall discussed what life was like, playing rugby with one of the best players in the history of the sport – Jonah Lomu:

“I think the game owes him a great deal of thanks, because around the time we really wanted to launch it into professionalism, Jonah was the catalyst for doing it. His efforts at the ’95 World Cup in particular, his profile reached all over the world. It was incredible.”  

Looking ahead to the game at the weekend – when asked if the Irish line-out functions best when Devin Toner is on the pitch, Paul O’Connell said:

“It probably does. He’s doing it a long time – calling line-outs. The line-out in Leinster would be similar to the Irish line-out, so he’s doing it a long time and he’s one of the best in the world at it. I know they struggled a little bit at the start last week, but it’s very rare the Irish lineout struggles.”

When asked who is New Zealand’s biggest threat to Ireland on Saturday, Justin Marshall said: “Look, you mention Brodie Retallick – he’s phenomenal and I think the work that he does, particularly in the middle of the field – a lot of noticeable things he does, people say wow. But, it’s a lot of the unnoticeable things that help the team – the way he cleans rucks, the way he hits people in the tackle. He’s the type of player that the All Blacks need this weekend to step-up, because the gameplay needs to evolve. They couldn’t get it going last week in the wet, but when they get Brodie Retallick into the game, he becomes a threat with the ball, without it. He’s also got a skill set that they can open the wide channels up, because when it looks like he’s going to carry, he’s got the ability to just pivot and throw a left or right pass without thinking about it, to a back punching on to it. So, for me, Retallick is up for a big game.”  

Off The Ball’s Heineken Rugby Club roadshow will broadcast this evening, Wednesday 14th November, from 7pm on Newstalk, on www.OffTheBall.com, and on Off The Ball’s YouTube, Twitter and Facebook channels.