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Paul O’Connell believes Leinster dominance in Ireland team ‘a concern for the provinces’

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Forwards coach Paul O'Connell during the Ireland rugby captain's run at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Forwards coach Paul O'Connell during the Ireland rugby captain's run at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Forwards coach Paul O'Connell during the Ireland rugby captain's run at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Paul O'Connell believes Leinster's rival provinces are right to be worried by the eastern province's dominance of the national team's selection.

Andy Farrell picked 12 Leinster starters in his side to face Japan tomorrow, with two Munster players who came through at Leinster, Andrew Conway and Tadhg Beirne, and Bundee Aki of Connacht making up the XV.

From a developmental point of view, the breakdown of players in the team is 12 from the Leinster Academy and three from New Zealand and asssistant coach O'Connell believes the provinces will be inspired to redouble their efforts at underage level to bring up their representation.

"For sure, I'd say everyone province wants to have more Irish players in their squad," he said.

"I remember when I first came into the Munster team under Declan Kidney, we had a big goals sheet and one of the top goals was more Munster players playing for a winning Ireland.

"I'm sure it is a concern for the provinces. It makes them produce players. It makes them go and work hard on their domestic game structures, their school structures, it makes them go work hard on their academy structures to keep producing players.

"But in my time travelling around the provinces, I just see incredible work being done. I see the level of coaching now in the provinces, I think it's fantastic, and then the level of coaching underneath that in some of the academies is fantastic as well.

"From our point of view, I only found out about it yesterday when I read about it so it's not something we ever pay attention to or discuss or worry about. We just try to pick what we think is right on the day."

O'Connell and Irish rugby's other centurions welcome Johnny Sexton into their elite club tomorrow and the former captain hailed his former team-mate's influence.

"I think winning makes him want winning more," the former second-row said.

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"Winning doesn't take the edge off. He moves on from winning very quickly.

"Sometimes if we win badly, he almost treats it like a loss, if we don't play well, don't perform well, if we don't execute what we want to do. I think that's a big thing.

"I compare him to a Henry Shefflin or a Roy Keane, winning doesn't take the edge off him. That's the biggest thing he's brought to Irish rugby and Leinster rugby.

"I think that's one of the big reasons that he's had such a big influence on the teams he's been involved in.

"Some guys have big lofty goals and when they achieve them they take their foot of the gas or they allow their teams to take their foot off the gas. He just pushes harder and harder.

"And he has credibility with it because, despite what he may look like, he's great fun, he's great craic around the place. He builds relationships with people.

"When a guy you've built a relationship with drives you to a higher standard, you tend to react quite well to it.

"When I played, he was a great guy to have as a captain on the team because he didn't wait for other people to lead or he didn't look for the captain to always be on top of people.

"He just drove the team on relentlessly himself. The way he reacts to winning is the big thing for me."

Asked what it takes to get to 100 caps, O'Connell said there's a whole lot of love involved.

"You have to love it," he said.

"You have to love training, you have to love being part of the team and trying to make the team better.

"You've got to love the days that some other guys don't love sometimes.

"Those tough away games with your province when you need to dig out a bit of form or the work you do when you're injured to make sure you can come back at 75p of here you were and not 50pc of where you were. In how you prepare and how you train you probably build trust with the coaches that they want to select you, they feel you're an important part of the team.

"A lot of the guys that have got to 100 caps, I think they're an important part of the team as players but they're probably an important part of the team in terms of their leadership and their attitude and in terms of how they bring the team forward as well.

"I think loving it and loving training, loving preparing, loving being part of the group is one of the things that probably allows you to be consistent over time, allows you to keep putting your hand up for selection."

O'Connell is expecting a tough examination from Japan.

"They're an excellently coached team. That's what Andy said coming into the summer. At the World Cup, they had brilliant players but they were brilliantly coached as well," he said.

"They're coached the right way. They're not over-coached to the point where they have a little bit of paralysis. They still have this attitude to go and play. They seem to be backed to chase the unpredictable, chase offloads, take chances.

"Then they have incredible structure as well. We would have watched a good bit of the Highlanders in Super Rugby where (assistant) Tony Brown was coaching. You were getting a lot of these highly-scripted plays and they're brilliant to watch as well.

"Japan have a brilliant balance that way. James Moore is really experienced now as a lineout caller so they get brilliant ball off the lineout. They scored a maul try against us during the summer and a big part of Australia getting a result against them was how they stopped that part of their game.

"Sometimes they're really scripted but the seem to have a real license to offload and go play, then they can pick teams off with maul tries. We have a bad memory of a scrum at the World Cup in the back of our minds. They have great balance, excellent coaching and they work very, very hard.

"That's something we pride ourselves on so when we see it in another team, we recognise it. They work incredibly hard to attack and defend well, so the boys are under no illusions about how hard it's going to be."


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