Tuesday 16 January 2018

Paul O'Connell: I want to get my body back to where it was in my 20s

Paul O'Connell, Ireland captain
Paul O'Connell, Ireland captain
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

As he prepares to enter the small club of Ireland centurions along with Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara and John Hayes, Paul O’Connell says his greatest challenge is to get his body as fit and strong as it was when he was in his mid-20s.

The Munster legend will lead his country on his 100th cap at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow as Ireland go in search of a record eleventh successive win.

This week, the second-row has been the subject of huge praise from coaches ahead of what he described as a “great honour”, even though he appeared less than comfortable with the spotlight at the captain’s run press conference.

He said that Ireland are not thinking about a possible Grand Slam ahead of the penultimate game of the Six Nations against a Wales team he respects hugely.

And although he is in the twilight of an illustrious career, O’Connell is still striving for improvements.

“I think there’s certain things I continue to improve, physically I’m not where I was and that’s the challenge, to get to where I was at 25, 26,” he said.

“Experience counts, it’s something you probably don’t respect when you’re young and when you’re older you realise there’s a lot to be said for it.

“There’s a lot of things can happen in a rugby match that can deny you a result. You want to go out and perform as an individual and as a team.

“We’re playing a team that historically get better through a tournament and you can come across a very good side. The thing we want to do is go out and put in a performance tomorrow.”

O’Connell refused to entertain talk of a historic Slam at the ground where he and his team succeeded in 2009.

“Not really, the possibility of a championship is probably in the back of your mind. The way Joe prepares a team is a good way of moving it from your mind,” he said.

“We’d a tough review of the England game and then began to plan for Wales. If you’re not fully focused on getting those little things right you can’t perform. We’re not looking beyond the first-half of the next game and, when you’re in with a shout of winning the championship, it’s the best way to be.”

The second-row’s former teammate Alan Quinlan this week compared him to Roy Keane and he spoke about his leadership.

“I don’t know about that, crikey,” he smiled.

“I’m very competitive, that’s one of my big strengths. I can’t run over people, unlock defences with my footwork but I enjoy being part of a team, driving them to be successful.

“I’ve always enjoyed a leadership role in the teams I’ve been involved in and I enjoy it.

"I’m very interested in it, rugby, weight, fitness training; meetings or analysis is never a chore for me. I always enjoyed it and still do more than ever, that’s one of the reasons I’m still playing.”

Johnny Sexton trained fully with the team in Cardiff today as scrum coach Greg Feek gave the squad a clean bill of health.

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