Player of the Championship – Classic Winners: Paul O’Connell 2015

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The Player of the Championship accolade was the ideal send off to Ireland legend Paul O’Connell, who capped off his final Guinness Six Nations outing with the prestigious award in 2015.

The Player of the Championship accolade was the ideal send off to Ireland legend Paul O’Connell, who capped off his final Guinness Six Nations outing with the prestigious award in 2015.

It was a fairytale finale for O’Connell, who in his final Championship match scored a try – 13 years after making his debut in the competition, when he also crossed over for a five-pointer.

A captain for all occasions, O’Connell played the game with his heart on his sleeve. Passion, hard work and leadership was all facets of his game that could never be debated.

A British & Irish Lions captain on the tour to South Africa in 2009, the Munsterman succeeded fellow legend Brian O’Driscoll when selected as national captain two years later.

With countless honours and limitless plaudits, O’Connell’s 2015 campaign was the perfect way to walk off into the sunset having given so much to the Championship.


Ireland began their campaign away in Rome, the city where gladiators thrive. An assured 26-3 win over Italy was the perfect launching pad for Joe Schmidt’s side to defend their title.

A week later in Dublin, Ireland welcomed France to the Aviva Stadium. A flawless display off the tee from fly-half Johnny Sexton and replacement Ian Madigan gave O’Connell’s men an 18-11 victory. So far, so good.

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It got even better in the next round as they took on England. In a hard-earned win, much due to the efforts of their defence led by O’Connell, they ran out 19-9 winners at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland’s Round 4 encounter was a trip across the Irish sea to Wales, a fixture which saw O’Connell earn his 100th cap for his country – just the fourth player to do so.

A closely fought battle at the Principality Stadium followed before replacement Scott Williams’ try edged the win for the hosts. It was a devastating blow to O’Connell and his men.

It left them level on points with England and Wales going into the final round of fixtures – setting up a captivating three-way battle for top-spot on Super Saturday.


Ireland headed to Scotland knowing it might all come down to points difference between England, Wales and themselves in order to retain their Championship for the first time since 1949. It was perfectly in the balance for a thrilling conclusion to take place.

Warren Gatland’s Wales kicked off proceedings on the final Saturday with a mammoth 61-20 victory over Italy. It left Wales’ points difference on +53.

Next, it was Ireland’s turn to step up to the plate – and it was O’Connell to lead the way. The all-imposing lock powered over in the fourth minute of the game to get his side up and running.

Fellow forward Sean O’Brien also got in on the act with two tries of his own, before Jared Payne added Ireland’s fourth of the match.

Four penalty kicks from the reliable boot of Sexton boosted their score as they beat Scotland 40-10 at Murrayfield. It meant they surpassed Wales’ total and finished on +63 in the points difference column.

All that was left was to wait for the outcome of England versus France. A back-and-forth encounter ensued at Twickenham, with 12 tries scored in total.

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And despite Stuart Lancaster’s men winning 53-35, their points difference of +57 was not enough to overtake Ireland. After all the nail-biting on the edge of their seats, O’Connell and co could celebrate.


It was bedlam up in Scotland as Ireland celebrated in the away changing room at BT Murrayfield. He and his side paraded the trophy around the stadium late at night.

It was a fairytale ending for O’Connell as he celebrated a third Championship title in his final campaign.

He went on to claim 24% of the public vote for the Player of the Championship honour, becoming the first Irishman since Tommy Bowe in 2010 to win the award.

Fellow British & Irish Lion Alun Wyn Jones of Wales, teammate Robbie Henshaw and fly-half Dan Biggar were also named on a 12-man shortlist.

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O’Connell went on to earn the IRUPA Players’ Player of the Year 2015 Award, and led Ireland into the 2015 Rugby World Cup – where he played his final Ireland match before retiring due to injury in February 2016.

Described as “iconic” and “talismanic” by Jones, a “role model” by fellow lock Devin Toner and “the embodiment of what a rugby captain should be” by Wales legend Shane Williams, his mark on world rugby was well and truly made.

Five years later, the Limerick-born second rower is back in the Ireland set-up under Andy Farrell as forwards coach, continuing his long love affair with Rugby’s Greatest Championship.