Monday 19 February 2018

O'Connell: Ireland have evolved past 'manic aggression'

Ireland's Paul O'Connell
Ireland's Paul O'Connell
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

'Manic aggression' – two words that have become synonymous with Paul O'Connell.

The man that is presented to the media couldn't be further from the raging inferno that was portrayed in the now famous YouTube clip.

The video in question, which has been viewed almost 850,000 times, is that of the Ireland dressing-room prior to the 2007 Six Nations game against France in Croke Park.

"F**king manic aggression. Did you scare anyone? Did you f**king put the fear of God into anyone," O'Connell bellowed at his team-mates.

The video would become a regular feature of Gift Grub sketches, so you couldn't blame the Ireland captain for breaking into laughter when he was asked about it in a quiet room in Carton House yesterday.

Not only has the Irish team gone under radical changes since that speech seven years ago, but O'Connell also admits that the atmosphere inside a dressing-room has moved away from that kind of environment.

"It's embarrassing really," he chuckled. "Dressing-rooms are less like that now. They are a lot quieter. I think it has drifted away a little bit from the time of that video. Our dressing-room now is about preparing yourself as well as you can and making sure you are ready to do your job with as much detail as you can and then to execute that plan with as much physicality as you can.

"I suppose back then there was a certain leadership group that had to prepare the team and drive on the team, but that has faded a little bit. You look at the bench that will come on at the weekend, they will know their roles inside out. They will be ready. They will know they are probably going to come on and they'll have to make a big impact."

The dynamic may be different nowadays, but O'Connell is adamant that players must have a more controlled sense of aggression and use it to give themselves a physical edge over the opposition.

As Ireland face into their first away game under the guidance of Joe Schmidt, O'Connell and his side are fully aware of England's physical nature.

"Certainly, in international rugby, physicality and intensity is a massive part of the game. Look at the England team we are going to play at the weekend, you look at the size of them, from 1 to 15, they are incredibly big, incredibly athletic. They are very fit.

"If you want to beat that you need to be able to match it. That aggression and physicality is such a big part of rugby, particularly in the pack and particularly in the front five."

O'Connell has yet to play against England since Stuart Lancaster took over as head coach in 2012, but from being on last summer's Lions tour with their coach Andy Farrell, the skipper knows the type of game that they like to play.

To go and win in Twickenham is a daunting task at the best of times, but to win against a team who are aiming to get their Six Nations campaign back on track and derail Ireland's in the process is an even tougher ask.

"They are very much a different team to the ones I would have played against in the past," O'Connell said. "It's incredibly difficult to win over there. I was lucky to win a few earlier on in my career. Whenever we have won there they have been incredibly tight games. It doesn't matter what England team you play it is always incredibly physical. All across the pitch – up front and in the backs."

Schmidt has rightly come in for plenty of praise for how well his precise game plan dismantled Wales, but O'Connell admits that the coach has made it clear to the squad that tomorrow's game will be a different test to anything they have faced since the Kiwi took over.

"You always have to do something different. You can't do exactly what a team is expecting because the way teams prepare, they'll be ready for you.

"A lot of the simple things we did against Wales, if we're to win we'll have to do them again.

There might not be a 'manic aggression' speech dished out by O'Connell, but he will have his say. And the players inside the dressing- room will know that the same standards are demanded of them.

Irish Independent

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