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Paul O'Connell: 'We're not thinking beyond Italy clash'

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Ireland captain Paul O'Connell poses with the new 6 Nations Trophy during the RBS Six Nations Launch at the Hurlingham Club, London

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell poses with the new 6 Nations Trophy during the RBS Six Nations Launch at the Hurlingham Club, London

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell and head coach Joe Schmidt

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell and head coach Joe Schmidt

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Ireland captain Paul O'Connell poses with the new 6 Nations Trophy during the RBS Six Nations Launch at the Hurlingham Club, London

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell was not about to get drawn into the world outside of Carton House at the launch of the Six Nations in London yesterday.

The champions have been labeled as favourites by bookmakers and keen observers of The Championship.

"It is something I was unaware of," said O'Connell, clearly not a betting man.

The rolling stone gathered moss through last year's campaign on the way to that historic decider against France in Paris.

The November wipeout of the Springboks and the Wallabies provided further hard-nosed evidence of progress under the stewardship of a crafty coaching crew and their talismanic on-field leader.

"November was great for us. Anytime we can take those two big scalps of South Africa and Australia, it's always a great Autumn."

And still. The nagging inner-voice, always in pursuit of perfection, found a way to the surface.

It was great without Ireland being great.

"We were disappointed with how we finished the South Africa game, happier with how we finished the Australia game," he said.

The one that got away against New Zealand always serves as a reminder of how many small battles have to be edged before any war is won.

"We had a very disappointing experience the previous Autumn where we were in a good position against New Zealand and didn't manage to close the game out. We managed to do that this Autumn."

HEALTHY

"There are a lot of things to work on as well. We built up a healthy lead in the Australia game and let it slip through a few defensive lapses and we've heard a lot about those since.

"We'll be looking to rectify those for the Six Nations."

It is this constant drive to repair the past in order to redesign the future that gives Ireland the mindset to make gains.

"When we came into camp over Christmas, we were expecting, I suppose, a big review and a big plan for the year ahead," he said.

"Everything we did was around Italy and preparing for that first game. It has been the same since we came in Sunday evening for camp.

"It avoids any of those distractions of looking at the bigger picture. That's all we've done, prepared for Italy and ignored everything else."

Now Ireland are the target the other five nations will want to hit and the draw of starting out in Italy is something close to their captain Sergio Parisse's heart.

"For us, to start the first game at home, is a real chance playing against the best team, at the moment," he said.

This can be a gauge for Ireland and Italy because there is bound to be even more on the line when they next confront each other. The Italians have enjoyed the motivation of starting out the Six Nations eight times in fifteen years, yielding three wins and five losses.

They have broken the resolve of Scotland in 2000, Wales in 2003 and, unforgettably, France in 2013.

"It is a good opportunity for us to understand where we are in the Six Nations and we have Ireland in the World Cup as well.

"Every time we play at home is a special moment for us. We will try our best to get the result."

They have hosted Ireland twice on opening weekend in 2005 and 2011 when they came close enough to make them dangerous next week.


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