Friday 20 April 2018

Quinnell: O'Connell's calm head key to Ireland hopes

Former Wales forward and Heineken brand ambassador Scott Quinnell says Ireland will have to learn to ‘manage expectations’ at the World Cup – check out the Heineken House Hunt video, which features Shane Horgan, on www.independent.ie
Former Wales forward and Heineken brand ambassador Scott Quinnell says Ireland will have to learn to ‘manage expectations’ at the World Cup – check out the Heineken House Hunt video, which features Shane Horgan, on www.independent.ie
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Scott Quinnell had a few battles with Paul O'Connell when the Ireland captain was emerging onto the scene, and the former Wales skipper is full of admiration for his old foe.

O'Connell will bid to become the first man to lead Ireland beyond the World Cup quarter-final stages, and although the talismanic second-row will retire from international duty after the tournament, Quinnell doesn't expect sentiment to get in the way of the bigger picture.

Ireland take on Wales on Saturday in the first of four warm-up games and although O'Connell is unlikely to feature this early on, Quinnell believes that the former Munster player will be the calming influence by the time the business end of the World Cup comes around.

Important

The notion of the Limerick native being a 'former' Munster player probably won't fully sink in until he lines out for Toulon and Quinnell reckons that of all the French club's signings, O'Connell will prove to be the most important.

"There'll be a huge amount of emotion with Paul O'Connell," said Quinnell. "You saw what he did in the last few weeks of the season. He said 'it's probably my last few games with Munster' but that was inside.

"He's an incredible professional, an incredible man. Toulon are going to have one hell of a signing.

"They've had plenty of world-class players there but there'll be no-one more who will drive it at Toulon than Paul O'Connell.

"If Ireland get to a World Cup quarter or semi-final, there won't be any one left in Ireland, will there?

"I'm sure Paul O'Connell will be the only guy trying to calm people down. Everyone else will be going mad. What a way to bow out of international rugby that would be."

The shadow boxing will begin in the Millennium Stadium on Saturday with both coaches likely to keep their cards close to their chest.

Ireland's performance against Wales in the Six Nations in March was arguably the worst of Joe Schmidt's reign but back-to-back titles has them exactly where they want to be heading into the World Cup.

Quinnell was in Welsh team that won eight consecutive games in the lead-up to the 1999 World Cup but they fell at the quarter-final hurdle to eventual winners Australia.

He understands the level of expectation that comes on the back of success but he is adamant that Ireland are more prepared now than ever for a World Cup.

"They will have a target on their back but you look at how Ulster and Munster played towards the end of the season," Quinnell pointed out.

"It's about keeping the guys around Paul O'Connell fit. Making sure (Johnny) Sexton gets through it with (Conor) Murray.

"The likes of (Jamie) Heaslip, (Sean) O'Brien. You have to get them through to the knockout stages of the World Cup.

"Ireland probably have a little bit more strength in depth than they've had at any other World Cup.

"They're a great side to watch. Their heart and soul is poured into every game. They'll get through to the quarter-final and then it's about managing expectations."

Schmidt is sweating over the fitness of Cian Healy but Warren Gatland has concerns of his own, with George North yet to fully recover from concussion.

Lions centre Jonathan Davies has already been ruled out of the tournament, and Quinnell admitted that Wales can ill afford to lose North as well.

Strong

"You look at the best sides in the world. New Zealand aside, they can pick from 31 to 45 guys and be equally strong in most areas," he said.

"We need our best players playing at the top of their game to be able to go and win the World Cup.

"Wales, probably more than any other side, need strength in depth. A couple of major blows can make it very difficult to go and win it."

Sounds all too similar to the situation Ireland face in the coming weeks.

Former Wales No 8 Scott Quinnell is a brand ambassador with Heineken, proud sponsor of the Rugby World Cup for 20 years.

Irish Independent

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