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Paul O'Connell reveals the man responsible for bringing him to Toulon

An old friend from the Lions eventually twisted his arm.

IRELAND CAPTAIN PAUL O’Connell has spoken for the first time since his high-profile move to Toulon, saying that a call from the club’s strength and conditioning coach ultimately twisted his arm.

O’Connell says he was almost certain to retire after the World Cup, but that Paul Stridgeon, who he had worked with while on the Lions Tour, floated the idea of a move.

O’Connell says the first contact with France came in early 2015, and that a false rumour in the French media sparked Toulon’s attention.

The 35-year-old initially turned down the approach, but says that the more he pondered the move, the more his mind changed.

Paul Stridgeon Stridgeon coached on the 2009 and Lions tours, and now works with Toulon and Wales. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“By and large it’s been a done deal in my head that I would be retiring after the World Cup, from both Munster and Ireland.

“I’d never heard anything from Pau but that sparked a bit of interest from some clubs in France and I got some contact from Paul Stridgeon, who’s the S and C coach in Toulon, who was on the Lions squad and I’d be quite friendly with, who asked me would I be interested, and I hadn’t really thought about it.

“I actually got back to him after Christmas and said, ‘Look it’s not for me, I’m going to retire after the World Cup,’ and I was very happy with that decision. Once I told him that a small bit of regret snuck in and about a month or five weeks later I got another text message that I think they were abut to move on another player,” he said.

Speaking this afternoon at the launch of Ireland’s new World Cup jersey in Galway, O’Connell said that after discussing the move with his wife, he informed the club that he would be interested in the move, but stressed that he never entered formal discussions until after his final game for Munster in the Pro12 final.

“I chatted with Emily a little bit about it. The body at the time was feeling really good. I just said to them, ‘Look I would be interested but I can’t talk to a club while I am playing for Munster unfortunately, but if you are willing to wait until the summer I’ll certainly talk to you and look at doing something.’

Paul O'Connell makes his way past The Guinness PRO12 Trophy O'Connell's final appearance for Munster ended in defeat in the Pro12 final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I went down about two weeks after the Pro12 final and agreed to join them,” he added.

The Irish captain has not spoken to the club about an official start date, but has confirmed that his final appearance in the green shirt will be during the World Cup.

O’Connell says that even though he’s confident he won’t be needed by Joe Schmidt in the near future, he won’t be answering the call, saying that as a 36-year-old by the time he makes the move, he won’t be able to commit to the European champions and his country.

“The World Cup will certainly be the end of my Irish rugby career.

“I don’t think I’ll be needed on the end of a phone. There’s great strength in depth at second row at the moment and we probably have a few backrows that can jump in. I’ll be on the end of a phone, but I don’t think I’ll be needed on the end of a phone.

“I will say never. I just know myself, I’m really looking forward to the World Cup but this is going to be the end of my time playing for Ireland.

“If I want to go to France and play well for Toulon I’m not going to be able to do what Johnny Sexton did last year.”

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Neil Treacy

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