Thursday 22 February 2018

Captain O'Connell wants scalp to take to World Cup

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

PAUL O'CONNELL has admitted that taking a southern hemisphere scalp would be of benefit to Ireland at next year's World Cup but he warned his players to concentrate on an improved performance against South Africa this evening.

As the Springbok captain Jean de Villiers labelled this evening's Aviva Stadium clash as "the most important game of the year", O'Connell warned against looking too far ahead.

The Six Nations champions come into the game with a number of key players including Sean O'Brien, Rory Best, Andrew Trimble and Cian Healy out, a novice centre partnership in Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne and concerns over Mike Ross's fitness.

They face a Springbok team O'Connell rates as up there with the best he's faced, but the skipper maintained that his side would relish the challenge.

"You'd like to be heading to the World Cup with some big scalps and I think that's what Joe (Schmidt) has said all along," he said. "We have a three-game Test series and we'd love to take one of the big southern hemisphere teams down.

"It's not always an indicator of success. We brought great form into the World Cup in 2007 and didn't produce, one of the things we talk about is improvement. If we can improve from game to game, series to series, then that's what we want. That's what we did at times last year.

"There's a lot of games between now and the World Cup. If we can improve over the autumn, improve over the Six Nations, we'll be in pre-season together next summer. The marginal gains are important as well.

"Some of my best memories in rugby are games Ireland v South Africa, Lions v South Africa, they are brilliant games of rugby.

"We're not thinking about the injured guys, we've an excellent pack of forwards, an excellent team and we're looking forward to tomorrow."

South Africa are the clear bookies' favourites for this evening's meeting and named an unchanged XV from the team which beat New Zealand in their last outing.

"This is most important game of the year. We're under no illusions. We need to start our tour on a high," former Munster centre De Villiers said.

Irish Independent

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