Sunday 21 January 2018

Irish experience pleases O'Connell

New skipper Paul O'Connell believes a crowded captains' corner has removed all trace of loneliness from leading Ireland.

The 34-year-old talisman lock first skippered his country a decade ago but now has the armband full-time under new head coach Joe Schmidt.

Munster's abrasive second-row will lead Ireland into autumn international battle with Australia in Dublin on Saturday after shaking off any lingering calf trouble.

O'Connell has no fears he will lead alone though, with a clutch of former international and current provincial skippers at his side.

He explained: "Sometimes when you're a young man being captain can be a bit of a lonely place.

"But here it definitely isn't, you look across the team and the other captains who are there and that real experience puts you in a very good place as a captain.

"Rob Kearney, Brian O'Driscoll , Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony.

"If you're not worrying about everyone else you can worry about yourself, and you don't have to worry about preparing anyone at all.

"It is very rare a young, inexperienced side wins the biggest Test matches.

"Joe wants guys to lead with their actions, and know their roles inside-out.

"Joe asked me last week and I was delighted to do it.

"You do wear the losses a little bit more when you're captain.

"You do put yourself under a bit more pressure when you're captain.

"But I've had plenty of experience of it over the years and hopefully have a good handle on what it takes now."

O'Connell will start his first Ireland match for 18 months on Saturday - the first time since the 2011 World Cup that he will line up alongside O'Driscoll from the off in the national side.

Acutely aware time is not on his side, he has at least tried to learn from those enforced absences.

He continued: "I'm wiser in terms of my preparation now, there's certain things in training I know not to go after.

"I'm definitely better at looking after my body, now I know more about what I need to do before and after training, what I need to do in a down week and how that compares to a Test week.

"Maybe that's the experience of the injuries shining through, but hopefully it puts me in a good place now.

"Injury puts into focus how special these moments are: the bus journey to the ground, arriving at the stadium and seeing the supporters.

"Those moments are going to grow less and less for me now, there aren't as many still ahead of me as I would have liked and thought there would have been a few years ago.

"And it definitely makes you cherish it more, and enjoy it more.

"But the last few weeks of training have been great, there's a fantastic buzz around the place and it gives me a great vibe heading into the last few years of my career."

Press Association

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