One opponent Paul O'Connell could not overcome

Paul O’Connell’s retirement announcement identified the injury he suffered against France in the Rugby World Cup as the key factor in his decision.

The IRFU at the time described it as “a suspected avulsion of the hamstring muscle from the ischial tuberosity”, but what is that in layman’s terms?

Medical sources contacted yesterday described the injury as tearing the common hamstring tendon directly off the bone— the ischial tuberosity, or ‘sit bones’. They added the injury is one which often happens when the player is in the ‘poach’ position— the player’s leg is straight but when he is driven back with force, the hamstring is pulled.

The weakest link is where the hamstring attaches to the bone, so it tears loose from the bone if the force is strong enough. It’s a severe injury which has to be repaired through surgery, but the challenge then is to help the leg recover by building up the glutes and hamstrings while rehabilitating. While other rugby internationals have suffered similar injuries and made a full recovery, and O’Connell was clearly in optimum physical shape going into the Rugby World Cup, there are possible complicating factors in O’Connell’s case.

The second-row is now 36, for instance, and tendons tend to degenerate with age. Older athletes also find it harder to put on muscle bulk, which would make it more difficult to build up the injured area after surgery.

Also, while it is possible a player could rehab the injury sufficiently to function in day to day life, it’s understood it would take a good deal of extra work for the player to recover sufficient fitness to play again at the highest level. The good news is that while the player described the injury as the most painful of his career at the time, proper rehabilitation and recovery should mean no soreness for O’Connell from day to day.

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