3 FEBRUARY 2002 was a fresh start for Irish rugby. Warren Gatland hadn’t had his contract renewed so it was Eddie O’Sullivan’s first game as head coach but the team was different too.
We didn’t know it then, but the second row hiding a head of ginger hair under a scrum cap would go on to become one of Ireland’s greatest ever players.
And 15 years later, Paul O’Connell is driving the team on, just as he did on his debut.
When he takes the field at the Millennium Stadium this Saturday it will be the Ireland captain’s 100th cap for his country (although he has earned seven for representing the Lions too).
It seems fitting that the team he will play his 100th game against is the same country he played in his first test.
Ireland routed Wales 54-10 that day at Lansdowne Road and O’Connell grabbed a try in the opening stages.Source: MottiRugby/YouTube
O’Connell was taken off moments later and viewers could see the anguish on the lock’s face as his debut was cut short.
O’Connell had taken a blow to the head and as he told Donald McRae in the Guardian last year, he couldn’t remember scoring at all.
“The doctor came over and he was asking my phone number and holding up his hand and saying how many fingers. While he was questioning me I looked up at the clock as it was counting down. It said 2 minutes 19. I told the doctor: ‘Mick, I’m not coming off after 2 minutes 19 seconds. Mick said: ‘There’s 2 minutes 19 seconds left of the half. You’ve played the whole half. You scored a try.’ I argued with him: ‘I didn’t score a try. You’re only saying that to get me to come off.’ That’s when he said: ‘Look, you’re not going back on.’ I saw the video later and I did score but I have no recollection of it.”
O’Connell recovered sufficiently from that injury to win 98 more national caps (and counting), two Six Nations titles (and counting) and go on three Lions Tours (probably no more coming there, to be fair).
And in case you were curious, this was O’Connell’s hair situation under that scrum cap back in 2002.