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'Paul O'Connell is a totem pole of excellence' | Liam Toland

Thom Malone
Thom Malone

20:58 7 Jan 2021


Liam Toland joined Off The Ball on Thursday where he looked ahead to what Paul O'Connell will bring to the Ireland coaching set up.

The former Munster lock was named as Andy Farrell's forwards coach and Toland sees a similarity between the pair.

"He clearly is a high achiever, captaining Ireland, the Lions, all the teams he's been with. He has a ruthless pursuit of excellence."

"The amount of research he does around the lineout transformed how Ireland use the lineout. Those iconic pictures of him sailing high as if it was a fluke that he was stole the opposition ball or won the lineout himself without anyone else touching it.

"The personality fit, in any management group there has be be kind of nerds and there has to be happy go lucky guys and every successful professional has that. Paul's personality is a mix of both but he is a totem pole of excellence."

Given the change in fortunes for the Irish lineout over the last year or so, Toland believes it will be the former Lions captain's primary focus.

"Ireland's lineout, certainly with the absence of Devin Toner and the new hooker combination has struggled over recent matches, so what then becomes success?" wondered the former Leinster back row.

"Is it simply winning the lineout, is it having an outstanding offensive lineout where we score tries in the corner like in the past, defending lineout mauls or most importantly is it a set piece that lays a trap for the opposition that allows s guys like Garry Ringrose to sail through?

"There's an awful lot that goes on, and at the same time there is a transition of players as well the likes of Caelan Doris and other new guys coming in. There's a lot on his plate but there is a lot to be excited about."

What is success for Paul O'Connell?

Many already believe Paul O'Connell will be a success, but what constitutes success, particularly with regard to the Irish lineout?

"At elite level as these guys are playing at the lineout needs to function under the greatest pressure," Toland said.

"So if you have a hooker on his own five metre line, whoever that hooker may be. Ireland are winning by ten points to eight, that hooker has to make that hit.

"So the lineout management, the functioning of the units so the lazy option is to blame the hooker but there are an awful lot of moving parts in a lineout, particularly in a lineout maul you want to use to score.

"I think Paul O'Connell's ambition will go way beyond just simply sourcing the ball, but that's something basic we have struggled with in recent times.

"That has to be sorted out. Who is the lineout manager? Who is the person who reads this?

"You think of O'Connell and John Hayes and that symbiotic relationship they had, but it wasn't just those two guys.

"The success the Irish lineout has had with Malcolm O'Kelly, Donnacha O'Callaghan, Mick O'Driscoll and Simon Easterby and all these guys, it doesn't happen by accident.

"He will probably try to change the foundation of what is happening. I think the lineout has changed in terms of its function over time.

"The days of kicking to the corner and scoring tries from lineout mauls is not dead but it's not providing that function anymore.

"So it is going to be difficult but our ambition should be grander than just simply sourcing the ball."

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