Sunday 17 February 2019

Paul O'Connell: The celebrations feel like Robbie Henshaw's 21st birthday

David Kelly

David Kelly

Joe Schmidt and Paul O'Connell hailed one of the most "bizarre" sporting days ever as Ireland wallowed in back-to-back championship for the first time since 1949.

Irish players waited anxiously in front of their TV screens as England pushed for the late try that would have won them the title - only for France to win a late penalty before eventually kicking he ball dead.

"I thought the game had finished," said a visibly exhausted head coach Joe Schmidt. "I thought fantastic then I looked up and saw that it wasn't good."

Captain Paul O'Connell, who refused to give any indication as to whether he would remain on for an unprecedented hat-trick title tilt, said: "It was strangest, more bizarre way to win a trophy. It was incredible.

"When you're playing a match you have to focus on the next moment, like France last year. Those feelings don't come into it but when you're watching it on TV, you're a supporter.

"You are completely powerless. It was a bizarre day. And then when we got the trophy, it was like Robbie Henshaw's 21st out there with all the 80s music being played!"

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell with the six nations trophy at Murrayfield Stadium. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell with the six nations trophy at Murrayfield Stadium. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Paul O'Connell (left), and Sean O'Brian with the six nations trophy. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Sean O'Brien of Ireland kisses the Six Nations trophy. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Paul O' Connell offers the trophy to the rest of the team. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Rob Kearney after winning the 2015 RBS Six Nations. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell with the Six Nations Trophy (left), as Jamie Heaslip sprays his team with champagne. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Ireland celebrates winning the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Paul O'Connell lifts the six nations trophy. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Paul O'Connell lifts the six nations trophy as they celebrate. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Paul O'Connell celebrates with the Six Nations trophy. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Simon Zebo and Conor Murray of Ireland celebrate victory. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Jamie Heaslip celebrates with the trophy. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Paul O' Connell lifts the trophy as his team mates celebrate. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Jamie Heaslip and Devin Toner celebrate with the trophy. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Paul O' Connell celebrates after the RBS Six Nations win. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Paul O' Connell (third right) and team mates celebrate after the RBS Six Nations match. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Ireland players Jamie Heaslip (left) Rob Kearney (centre) and Sean O' Brien celebrate. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell carries his son Paddy from the pitch at the end of the game.
Jonathan Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne celebrate. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Connor Murray and Peter O'Mahony acknowledge the applause from the crowd at the end of the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Jonathon Sexton scores a penalty. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Ireland's Peter O'Mahony acknowledges the applause from the crowd at the end of the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Ireland's Jared Payne scoring a try during the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Ireland's Jared Payne celebrates a try during the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Ireland's Paul O'Connell with the Centenary Quaich after the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Paul O'Connell with the Centenary Quaich after the match. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Scotlands Jim Hamilton and Irelands Jamie Heaslip compete in a line out. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Jonathan Sexton in action with Scotlands Finn Russell. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Jared Payne is congratulated by team-mate Jonathan Sexton after scoring his side's third try.
Jared Payne touches down to score his side's third try of the game.
21 March 2015; Sean O'Brien, Ireland, scores his side's second try against Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Luke Fitzgerald, Ireland, is tackled by Stuart Hogg, Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Jonathan Sexton, Ireland, is tackled by Jim Hamilton, Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Stuart Hogg, Scotland, is tackled by Paul O'Connell and Cian Healy, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland supporters, from left, Richard, Daniel, Jack and Philip Boland, from The Curragh, Co. Kildare, ahead of the game.
21 March 2015; Jonathan Sexton, Ireland, is tackled by Finn Russell, left, and Matt Scott, Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Ireland supporter Betty Corcoran, originally from Bray, Co. Wicklow, but living in Airdrie, Scotland, cheers the Ireland team's arrival into ground ahead of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Ireland supporters John, Nicola and Charlie Collins, from Ballsbridge, Dublin, cheer the Ireland team on their arrival ahead of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Ireland's Luke Fitzgerald arrives into the ground ahead of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Sean O'Brien scores their second try of the game during the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 21, 2015. See PA story RUGBYU Scotland. Photo credit should read: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
21 March 2015; Ireland captain Paul O'Connell goes over to score his side's first try, his seventh career try, in the fifth minute of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Ireland captain Paul O'Connell goes over to score his side's first try, his seventh career try, in the fifth minute of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Paul O'Connell of Ireland scores the first try during the RBS Six Nations match between Scotland and Ireland at Murrayfield

Henshaw laughed but confirmed that "This was much better than my 21st" as he celebrated his first championship with a title despite being burdened with the pressure of following the legendary Brian O'Driscoll

"A lot of things happened today but Jamie Heaslip's tackle at the end was not luck, a lot of things happened to make it good for us," continued O'Connell. "Maybe the Gods were smiling on us."

"It's an incredibly player led environment and the coaching staff are superb," head coach Schmidt added.  "The provinces do a good job creating the athletes we need. Once the game kicks off, I'm just a spectator and I was an excited one today through three games.

"The players played a match today physically and then had to play another emotionally. It is special because we rebounded from Wales and Ireland hasn't won successive titles for a long time. Paul took them by the neck and dragged them through this week."

O'Connell's focus will now switch to the World Cup even though it remains unclear whether, like Brian O'Driscoll last season, he will bow out at the top.

"It's a strange position to be in, I have to be sensible. I don't have an answer myself, that's genuine. If it does finish, it would be a great way. Brian O'Driscoll finished this way and it would be nice.

"It's very satisfying, we trust the coaches and that is important particularly after last week. We try to avoid the criticism but the trust shone through this week. We'd love to produce more rugby like that but we are trying to do that. I don't care what way we play because winning a championship is so special.

"To go back to back is incredible, it is a very hard thing to do. We are a small island with four professional teams and the provinces really work together. Jason Cowman our fitness guy is incredible and the medical staff are important.

"You'd love to go to the World Cup and do well. We haven't got too far ahead of ourselves. We plan on what is front of us and leave that to the coaches. Joe is a fantastic coach and the whole staff are a massive influence. We have never questioned ourself."

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