Four years ago, as England crashed out of their home World Cup in the group stages, Ruaridh McConnochie was turning out for National Division Three side Nuneaton.
This week, he was named in Eddie Jones’ 31-man England squad for the 2019 World Cup, after just one season in the professional game.
It has been meteoric rise for the winger from Kent, but how did McConnochie make the transition from amateur rugby in such a short time?
As a youngster, McConnochie was never involved with any professional academies. Instead, he plied his trade with amateur side Cranbrook, in the sixth tier of the English rugby pyramid.
Then, after beginning his teaching degree at Gloucester University, McConnochie joined Nuneaton ahead of the 2012-13 season.
So much was his love for the game, McConnochie made the 146-mile round trip from Gloucester as much as three times a week.
Elliott Brown has been Nuneaton’s captain since the 2012-13 season, and described McConnochie as a “gangly, scrawny, super skinny lad.”
His ability was immediately apparent though, as he ran in 24 tries across two seasons for the club.
“He could see things other players couldn’t, whether he took a gap himself or put someone into it. He had an exceptional ability to beat the first man, you could almost guarantee it,”said Brown.
McConnochie then made the step up to Hartpury College, where after a short spell, he was called up to the England Sevens circuit.
With Sevens being introduced to the Olympics in 2016, McConnochie had the chance to make a name for himself on the big stage.
Sevens head coach Simon Amor, unlike Jones this week, overlooked McConnochie though, naming the man from Tenterden as a reserve.
Shortly after selection though, injuries meant McConnochie was called up, and he went on to play his part for a team that won the silver medal in London.
His performances didn’t go unnoticed for the Sevens side, and after another productive year in the national squad McConnochie was offered a contract by Bath in 2018.
“It was more in the back of my head having never done an academy pathway and never being involved in professional 15s I wanted to give it a try. If at the end of the first year it wasn’t going well, that’s life, but if it was I would’ve hated to have retired from Sevens and not given it a try, ” McConnochie said.
McConnochie’s Bath debut came sooner than expected however, as an Anthony Watson injury meant he was deployed as fullback by head coach Todd Blackadder.
Other injuries across the back-three saw McConnochie become a regular fixture in the backline during the second half of the season, and after four tries in 15 games, he was called up to an England training squad in June.
Despite injury preventing his debut for England against Wales on Sunday, Jones was convinced by McConnochie after he impressed in training camps over the summer.
McConnochie’s inclusion was a shock to many in the rugby world; a feeling that was mutual between fans and the player.
“It was pretty last minute, and it did take me by surprise. I just wanted to go into each week and live it as a bonus, because it’s incredible,” he admitted.
After his injury prior to the game on Sunday, McConnochie believed his chances of making the squad were over.
“If you’d asked me 48 hours ago I’d be saying something different. It was a dark 24 hours with the injury. Then come this morning I was quite at peace, if it didn’t happen I’d have no regrets over the process,” McConnochie said.
McConnochie is expected to fit enough make his England debut against Wales in Cardiff this Saturday, which would be the end of an incredible four-year journey.
What the boss said
England head coach Eddie Jones vividly remembers the first time he watched McConnochie play for Bath.
“I will tell you the game I saw him. It was a beautiful sunny day in Exeter. He played for Bath and did a lot of good things. I remember driving back in the car and trying to find out more information about him,” Jones said.
“He is a big tall guy with feet and, again, with Exeter because you are close to the ground you can hear and see the communication of the players. He is a very good communicator. We found out more about him, did some background information, and he continued to play well.”
Although Jones’ decision to include McConnochie in his squad had been questioned, the Australian believes selecting the Bath back was a no-brainer.
“Firstly, I think it’s always nice to bring new blood in,” said Jones. “It freshens everything up. When you have the enthusiasm that young players do, it adds to the squad.
“Once he came into camp, he cemented our impression of him,” Jones added. “He’s a mature boy who has played a number of positions, so he was a pretty easy selection in the end.”
Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby
London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.
The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.
O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011.
He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017.
O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation.
On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.
“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions.
“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years.
“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy.
“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.
“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland.
“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.
“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old.
“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport.
“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.
“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them.
“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.
“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us.
“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.
“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career.
“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey.
“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family.
“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years.
“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.
“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then.
“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.
“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be.
“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”
Ryan And Baird Ruled Out Of Scotland Game. 2 called up.
The Ireland squad returned to Dublin on Saturday evening following the victory over England at Twickenham and reassembled at Carton House on Sunday evening.
James Ryan will not be considered for selection this week and his return to rugby protocols will be supervised by the Leinster Medical Team. Ryan Baird is ruled out of the final fixture of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations with a back issue.
Uncapped locks Ross Molony and Joe McCarthy have been called up to train with the squad. Ross has been involved in Ireland squads since the summer of 2021 while Joe, a former Ireland U20 player, made his Leinster debut against Cardiff in January having impressed for Dublin University in the Energia AIL.
Robert Baloucoune, Nick Timoney and Mike Lowry all return after lining out for Ulster in the URC against Leinster at the weekend.
Ireland play Scotland in the final round of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championship on Saturday 19th March at 4.45pm. The game is being televised by Virgin (ROI) and ITV (NI).
Ireland Squad Round 5 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championships
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 36 caps
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) 2 caps
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 31 caps
Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht) 11 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 5 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 30 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 16 caps
Mack Hansen (Connacht) 3 caps
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 56 caps
James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) 3 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 19 caps
James Lowe (Leinster) 11 caps
Michael Lowry (Ulster/Banbridge) 1 cap
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 95 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 41 caps
Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 104 caps CAPTAIN
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 22 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 29 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 26 caps
Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) 2 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 16 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 56 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 115 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 6 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 67 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 25 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 47 caps
Jeremy Loughman (Munster/Garryowen) uncapped
Joe McCarthy (Leinster/Dublin) uncapped
Ross Molony (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 83 caps
Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 6 caps
Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) 2 caps
Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 4 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 39 caps
Johnny Sexton Signs Contract Extension to 2023 Rugby World Cup￼
Ireland and Leinster out-half Johnny Sexton has signed a contract extension up until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
In November Johnny earned his 100th cap for Ireland against Japan and played a pivotal role in Ireland’s third defeat of New Zealand. He hit the milestone of 500 Six Nations Championship points against Wales in Round 1 of this year’s tournament and has represented Ireland on 103 occasions to date.
The former World Player of the Year was appointed Ireland captain by Andy Farrell in January 2020 and has led the team to ten victories in his 13 game tenure as the on field general.
Johnny made his international debut against Fiji in November 2009 and has represented Ireland at three Rugby World Cups (2011, 2015 & 2019). Johnny is a two time Lions tourist (2013 & 2017) and has won three Six Nations titles with Ireland and five European Cups with Leinster. He has represented his provinces on 178 occasions, scoring 1549 points.
David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented: “Johnny’s performances continue to be of the highest standard and he remains an integral member of the Ireland and Leinster squads. He has always been a leader on the field and in the past two years since taking on the Ireland captaincy his leadership off it has been top class. Johnny is a generational player and we are delighted that he has extended to 2023.”
Johnny Sexton, commented: “I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract. There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then.”