By Ciaran O’Raghallaigh
It’s a case of friends reunited for Paul O’Connell, after the 38 year-old Munster and Ireland legend confirmed yesterday he is to move to Paris and take up as role as forwards coach with Stade Francais.
The ex-Lions skipper had planned an end-of-career move to Toulon from Munster in 2015, only to be denied by an injury that ultimately forced him into retirement.
But now he’s finally on the way to France as forwards coach for Stade Francais, where he will join up with former Munster and Young Munster player Mike Prendergast.
Across the city, he’ll come face to face with former team-mates Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan, who now play for Racing 92, while in his first game with Stade on August 25th, he’s likely to be watching former Ulster star Paddy Jackson wear No 10 for promoted Perpignan.
Stade head coach Heyneke Meyer is sure to have been influential in the decision to recruit O’Connell, and the former Springbok head coach was thrilled to announce his capture yesterday.
“I am very pleased to welcome Paul to the Stade Francais Paris family, Paul will bring his value and experience to our coaching team through his proven leadership abilities and his tactical and technical skills,” Meyer said.
“This is a major asset for the club and it shows the ambitions and goals of the Stade Français Paris.”
The deal signed is for two years “at least”, according to the club website, and O’Connell is expected to have a special focus on the lineout.
The move follows a period involved with Munster academy and then Ireland U20s side, a spell that ended with a disappointing World Cup earlier this summer in France.
But O’Connell is joining a club with big ambitions, with billionaire owner Hans-Peter Wild eager to put together a team both on and off the pitch that can compete for silverware in France and Europe.
Wild, the German founder of Capri-Sun and a huge rugby fan, has thrown his full financial might behind the club and recruited Meyer and Pieter De Villiers earlier this year as well as former France scrum half Julien Dupuy.
They have been active on the playing side too, with O’Connell surely happy to be working with Yoann Maestri, the France second row, while Stade have also snapped up centre Gael Fickou and Argentina out-half Nicolas Sanchez.
O’Connell will be more familiar with another face in the dressing room – former Munster and Young Munster scrum half Mike Prendergast.
Prendergast has been in France since 2013, when he was part of Bernard Jackman’s coaching setup at Grenoble, and was praised for his attacking skills at Oyonnax last season despite the club’s relegation.
He will be eager to move up the table this season, as will Stade — who finished just one place above the relegation zone, prompting Wild’s decision to go all in this summer.
The focus is likely to be on Top 14 success, given their participation in Europe is limited to the Challenge Cup rather than the Champions Cup — a new experience for O’Connell.
Though they were champions as recently as 2015, they finished 12th last season just three points above the relegation zone — a situation that won’t be accepted by anyone this season, not least O’Connell.