The 2007 Rugby World Cup is something most Irish rugby players would rather forget.
There are many conspiracies as to what actually happened in France that year, but the reality was Ireland probably had their strongest ever squad heading into a Rugby World Cup, yet they were absolutely humiliated.
Peter Stringer recently gave us an interesting insight and now it’s Paul O’Connell’s turn thanks to his recent book. O’Connell recalls an altercation from a training session in the lead up to the tournament, that went horribly wrong.
In training, I continued getting into scraps, until the day in 2007 when I realised that a lot of us had become so powerful through lifting weights that a single punch could hurt someone badly.
It happened at an Ireland camp before the World Cup, when Eddie was close to naming his squad for France. We were training at the University of Limerick and Ryan Caldwell, the Ulster second-row, was trying to make an impression.
He’d been spoling rucks all week, making a nuisance of himself. That was all fair enough – he was like me at the same age – but when he put me on the floor with a tackle in a non-contact session my went and I got up and threw a punch.
I didn’t think I hit him too hard, but my right hand struck the side of his face and he went down, unconscious. What I didn’t know then was that one of his teeth had burst his cheek and he was swallowing a lot of blood.
The rest of us had to move away when the team doctor, Gary O’Driscoll, rushed over to him.
I kept looking over, from a distance, and the situation just kept getting worse and worse. Gary was trying to recusitate him and he had blood all over his mouth. He was roaring for an ambulance. Then he started cutting the jersey off Ryan.
I was shaking by the time the ambulance came to take him away. I was starting to fear the worst, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking that.
The ambulance drove off and Eddie came across the pitch towards us.
‘What’s the story?’, I asked him.
The story is, you nearly killed him’.
Thankfully by the time Eddie O’Sullivan has ushered those words to O’Connell, the medics had stabilised Caldwell.
O’Connell calls it the ‘worst moment’ of his career, and apologised to the squad the following day, saying that he had undermined team morale.
An incident as severe as this surely caused serious unrest in the camp and may have been one of the reasons Ireland performed so poorly.