Friday 19 July 2019

Schmidt: 'O'Connell is incredibly motivated to play as long as he can'

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IRELAND coach Joe Schmidt says he has not spoken to Paul O'Connell about whether he will continue beyond next year's World Cup, but paid tribute to his captain ahead of his 100th cap.

The Munster legend has said that he has not decided if he will carry on after the tournament this September although he is contracted up until the end of the 2015/16 season.

The New Zealander today replaced Jordi Murphy with Jamie Heaslip in an otherwise unchanged team for Saturday's key Six Nations game against Wales.

And he was asked at the team announcement press conference about his soon-to-be centurion second-row.

"I haven't spoken to him about anything other than what we might do at kick-off," Schmidt said.

"Paul is pretty happy with that, there's part of him that would love to play for ever. He's incredibly motivated to play as long as he can.

Whether 100 caps or not, he's been a fantastic leader and a group who lead with him and lead themselves.

"It's great for us to have Paul there, whether he continues beyond the World Cup is his decision."

Schmidt said Johnny Sexton is fit to play despite his hamstring problems but suggested Ian Keatey will travel as cover just in case.

"Johnny trained really well today, kicked well yest and trained on Tuesday. He's had a very good run into the game and has had no problems," he said.

"You worry about all the players, if they get compromised with a knock you can't calculate for it but you can anticipate it to a degree."

Schmidt has been impressed with Wales to date.

"They've improved each time. They were disappointed with their England performance, they were better against Scotland and better against France. They did it with a bit to spare, that will give them confidence.

"They're a very, very settled team. They've had very few changes over the last couple of years now. Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb a fixture now, but apart from that they're very consistent in their selections

"They have very clear and obvious strengths that they play to."

He said Cian Healy is getting closer to selection, but backed Jack McGrath's form in the No1 jersey.

"I think Cian is getting better all the time, but at the same time Jack has played extraordinarily well," Schmidt said. "He set the benchmark versus South Africaand maintained level of form and made it difficult for Cian coming back.

"Cian is getting closer to full fitness all the time, he'll give us great value off the bench but for us it's about rewarding the guy who has the jersey and keep challenging."

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