Saturday 16 December 2017

We could have stopped Kiwis scoring that try – O'Connell

Ireland's Paul O'Connell and Head Coach Joe Schmidt at the RBS Six Nations Launch in London yesterday
Ireland's Paul O'Connell and Head Coach Joe Schmidt at the RBS Six Nations Launch in London yesterday
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The old phrase about you only being as good as your last game is a bit of a curse for Ireland going into this Six Nations.

No matter what they say or do, the harrowing last-minute loss to New Zealand will be re-analysed over and over again in the next week ahead of the competition kicking off against Scotland.

It is the last reference point for the international team and, despite the provincial success in recent weeks, the level of performance will be the barometer by which every display will be judged.

That it is a not a career-defining victory that they are being asked to recall will sting the players who normally don't like looking back as they go about life on the relentless treadmill of the professional game.

They know opportunities like the one presented last November don't come too often, but, still, the display offered hope in spades as Ireland lifted themselves from 18 months of mediocrity to produce a performance for the ages, even if they didn't get the result to match.

What went wrong was addressed in the pre-Christmas camp, but captain Paul O'Connell admits that the disappointment felt in the aftermath of the last-minute collapse to the world champions still lingers.

That won't be used as motivation, however, the level of performance will be.

"There is frustration from the day, but I don't know about channelling it into the Six Nations," he said. "It's more about the level of performance we achieved that day and making sure that that's more or less our standard performance.

"That's the big thing for us. We've spoken about it before. At times, we've been inconsistent in Ireland. One of the things that Leinster have had is their consistency and Joe plays a big part in that, the way he prepares teams and the way he urges players to prepare mentally. Hopefully, we can address that inconsistency in the Six Nations."

Schmidt addressed the mental side of those fatal final seconds in his review session and O'Connell said the game tape showed that there was room for improvement.

"It was just Joe wanted to show opportunities that we had to stop them from scoring the try, he just wanted to show that there were several opportunities in that build- up in play where we could have stopped that try," he explains.

"When you are playing a game of that intensity, it is about being mentally tough and digging in because it was probably tiredness where a lot of the issues came from.

"That's what he was just saying, that when big games like that are on the line you need to dig in and make sure. He was just showing us, we were watching it, unfortunately very slowly, and he was able to highlight some very simple bits of play, things, as I said, that did not need to be so spectacular – we could have stopped them scoring that that try.

"I think you can practice at being better when fatigued, because that's a big thing. When you are fatigued, you give less physically, because that is what rugby is all about – you need to be able to go for the 80 minutes, you need to be able to execute your job when you are fatigued and he was just highlighting in that block of time, at various times, a few of us didn't execute under fatigue."

One point of note to come out of November was O'Connell's comments in the aftermath of the defeat to Australia around the difficulty of learning a new coach's game plan, while trying to reach the pitch of aggression needed for Test rugby.

But the skipper reckons that he and the other non-Leinster players in the squad are closer to being comfortable with Schmidt's plans.

"It is a different way of doing things," he conceded. "You really need to know your role inside out and in rugby if you are thinking a lot, it is hard to be physical. It is hard to bring attention to what you are doing.


"I think four weeks in with Joe in November, guys pretty much were close to inside-out knowing what they were doing. It is easier then to bring intensity, a lot easier to be physical about what you are doing. So, it was great to get time with him before Christmas and then two or three days again. This time we are starting a bit further down the track than we were in November."

Since then, O'connell has finally put pen to paper on a new deal that is likely to see him finish his career a one-province man and, the 34-year-old explained, it wasn't a tough decision.

"Look, it probably could have been done a little while ago, but, obviously, it was a busy Christmas period as well and you don't want to be doing things that might distract you in a busy period," he said of signing the new two-year contract.

"I wanted to stay. Munster have developed well over recent years; I get very well looked after there from a strength and conditioning and medical point of view, same with Ireland, I suppose they know my injury profile very well, which would have been a struggle if I went abroad. I'm very happy and really looking forward to it, it's an exciting time with Joe on board now and with Munster having an exciting bunch coming through, so I'm delighted all round."

Irish Independent

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