Donncha O’Callaghan: Irish players would rather fight each other than do team bonding

The former Ireland second-row talks about Joe Schmidt's selection policy - and his own experiences of being in an Ireland camp

Donncha O'Callaghan


For Ireland’s opening match against Scotland, Joe has picked Iain Henderson as a starter. I would have done much the same: show Henderson a little bit of loyalty to try and get a performance out of him. Hand over the shirt saying you need to fill this today.

But loyalty can also cloud your judgement.

The axe fell on Devin Toner who didn’t make the squad, so the rest know they have to put in a performance. It’s a harsh thing to say but when it comes to selection – it’s actually really fair. The lads would know that Jean Kleyn was flying in training.

Joe making a statement like that has told the squad: “you need to be on your toes.”

Iain Henderson Ireland

Lads are playing for their place every time now. The competition below the starting 15 will smell blood in the water. Luke McGrath would love a shot at some big-game time. So would Sean Cronin. They’ll all be champing at the bit, so you’ve got to “own” your position.

That’s a good thing, and I think we’ve a great shot at going deep in the World Cup. We’ve never had a better coach and never had a better group of players.

If we get out of the group, it looks like we’ll face either New Zealand or South Africa. Personally, I’d always like to avoid the All Blacks as the way they play is exactly the way rugby should be played.

I was a little bit worried about them before their last game. I know it was only Tonga they beat, but they were floating through it, passing before the ball, not looking for collisions. The All Blacks have definitely got a plan and I think they’ll be crowned world champions.



When I was in camp with Ireland, Denis Leamy would drag me, a non-drinker, over in front of the coaches to say we needed to go on the lash. Sometimes it’s no harm. It can be tough staring at the ceiling with a bunch of lads for weeks on end. If you’re not fit now – you won’t get fit in a week – or get unfit by having a couple of drinks.

There are other risks with social media and being seen out when you should be preparing for games but once it’s a controlled situation it can help you relax. We used to have this team-bonding events and you’d sooner just have a massive scrummaging session, throw a few digs and go for a few pints. Everyone is grand then.

It’s a bit different now because the players are such athletes. If you got a punch off Bundee Aki you mightn’t wake up for three or four days. It was grand when you were picking fights with Peter Stringer!

New Zealand are 11/8 favourites to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup

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