Paul O’Connell will play his last professional rugby games at this autumn’s World Cup in England, it was today confirmed by the IRFU and Munster Rugby.
In a statement the IRFU announced that the long-serving Irish lock had requested an early release from his contract, which is not due to expire until June 2016, and that they have ‘acceded’.
“The Ireland captain will be released from his IRFU Munster contract once Ireland’s participation at the tournament is completed,” they said.
O’Connell expressed his gratitude at playing for ‘one of the greatest sporting organisations in the world’ and that he sees himself still being involved with rugby in the future.
“As a proud Limerick, Munster and Irishman, I will forever treasure my association with Munster Rugby.
“After the World Cup I would like to experience new environments, and it is my genuine hope and ambition that I will have some future involvement with Munster and Irish rugby.”
The Limerick man made his senior Munster debut in August 2001 and made 178 appearances with the province; winning two European Cups (2006 and 2008), three Celtic League/PRO12 titles (2003, 2009 and 2011) and a Celtic Cup in 2005.
He made his Ireland debut against Wales in February 2002 and has won 101 caps for his country, making him Ireland’s fourth most-capped player ever, and the 20th most-capped international player in rugby union history.
With Ireland, he won a Grand Slam (2009), led his country to two RBS 6 Nations Championship titles (2014 and 2015) and claimed four Triple Crowns (2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009).
In 2009 he led the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa. A three-time Lions tourist (2005, 2009 and 2013), he played in a total of seven Lions Tests and was a member of the Series-winning side in Australia in 2013.
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne praised the ‘fantastic servant to Irish rugby’.
“Over the course of his 101 Ireland caps to date he has set the standard for the model Irish professional. His contribution to Irish rugby is immeasurable in terms of not only driving success on the field but also raising the profile of Irish rugby around the world,” he said.