Tuesday 20 February 2018

Paul O'Connell: We can beat the All Blacks

Nick Purewal

Ireland face their best-ever opportunity to beat New Zealand on Sunday, according to captain Paul O'Connell.

Munster totem O'Connell believes Ireland can finally break their All Blacks jinx and register a first-ever victory over the Kiwis in Dublin this weekend.

The 34-year-old skipper admits world champions New Zealand are "out on their own", streets ahead of the international competition across the globe.

But the 87-cap enforcer remains confident Ireland can break their duck against Steve Hansen's men, despite 27 winless clashes between the nations.

O'Connell said: "It's hard to know where it would rank if we did get a result.

"We spoke about the opportunity of creating history: it's something we addressed very early on in the week.

"I think if there's ever an Irish team that's capable of doing it, it's this one.

"I think we're an excellent side with a lot of talent that just isn't playing well at the moment.

"And that needs to stop somewhere.

"We need to produce that performance somewhere, and hopefully we're in a good position to do that this weekend."

New Zealand will become the first professional-era team to register the perfect year if they beat Ireland this weekend, ending the season with 14 consecutive victories.

Head coach Joe Schmidt received a triple fitness boost, with fly-half Jonathan Sexton beating his hamstring strain, and Rob Kearney and Brian O'Driscoll fending off knocks too.

O'Connell said New Zealand's stunning 38-27 Rugby Championship victory in South Africa only serves to underline the Kiwis' status as the dominant world force.

He said: "At the moment they look to be out on their own.

"Everyone was giving South Africa a chance of beating them in the last round of the Rugby Championship, and New Zealand won quite convincingly in that game.

"Even when they looked like they could be struggling they have this ability to dig our performances and produce big wins.

"At the moment the gap is big, they are a sensational side, they have very few weaknesses and that's the challenge for us.

"The gap is wide I think because we haven't played to our potential yet.

"And we'll be very much hoping to produce something close to that this weekend."

Former captain O'Driscoll will have his last chance to beat the All Blacks this weekend, given his impending retirement at the end of the season.

O'Connell is keen to forge on towards Rugby World Cup 2015, but knows his own chances to beat New Zealand are running out too.

Fired up to face the Haka, O'Connell said: "I haven't really thought about it much, but I suppose this is my last guaranteed time I get to play them.

"The Haka's a fantastic part of the game, it's a big tradition.

"I've seen it a lot of times, stood in front of it a lot of times and something I've a lot of respect for.

"I don't know if it gives them a psychological advantage.

"It's tradition: I wouldn't say I enjoy it, but I respect it and after that you've got to get your head on and get ready to play."

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