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News article – Style E 5946

News article – Style E 5946

Lock Paul O’Connell believes Ireland can use the experience of last year’s Lions tour to stand “a much better chance” of beating the All Blacks this time around.

…Paul O’Connell takes part in a television interview in Auckland…

Lock Paul O’Connell believes Ireland can use the experience of last year’s Lions tour to stand “a much better chance” of beating the All Blacks this time around.

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Eleven Irish players, including late call-up Simon Easterby, toured New Zealand with the Lions a year ago.

Saturday will be the fifth time in four years that O’Connell has lined up against the All Blacks – he played in all three Tests for the Lions and Ireland’s 15-6 defeat by the Kiwis in Dunedin in 2002.

Reflecting back on the Lions tour, the Limerick man said: “I think when the Tests came around last year we were under-prepared. I don’t think we even knew how under-prepared we were – we weren’t prepared for the level those guys played at.

“I think we will be now. I think the spine of experience we (Ireland) have from the Lions last year have gone through the squad.

“With the familiarity of the team and familiarity of the coaching staff I think we’ve a much better chance of winning down here.”

O’Connell says the losing with pride mentality, which often plagued Ireland against the world’s best sides, has been ditched.

“In the professional age it’s all about winning and losing. I think we used to look at performances against teams like the All Blacks (and were content of finishing close), but hopefully now we’re not doing that anymore. We’ve an attitude now that we’re trying to win a Test down here.”

Losing 2002’s first Test to the All Blacks still rankles with O’Connell. Then just 22, he played a pivotal part as the Irish rattled the hosts from the moment Brian O’Driscoll kicked a fifth-minute drop goal.

In front of 30,200 spectators, the All Blacks – starting with 13 Crusaders players – made nine handling errors in the first 30 minutes against Eddie O’Sullivan’s side. 10-3 down at the interval, Ireland almost made the perfect start to the second half when Geordan Murphy ghosted on to an O’Driscoll kick through to touch down but the video referee ruled that Murphy had grounded the ball out of play.

…O’Connell, Peter Stringer and Anthony Foley on the big screen at Carisbrook before 2002’s first Test against New Zealand…

A Ronan O’Gara penalty got Ireland within three points, but the Munster out-half missed another effort to bring it down to the minimum. New Zealand coach John Mitchell then brought Jonah Lomu off the bench for the closing 15 minutes and the giant winger did the business as his break paved the way for full-back Leon MacDonald’s clinching try.

O’Connell said: It was a major regret that we didn’t close that first game (in 2002) out and win it. I think we had a lot of chances and maybe with a few more guys with that team integrated with this team we could have won it.”

Both the Kiwi and Irish scrums have come under scrutiny in recent seasons, but the 26-year-old O’Connell feels that criticism has been unjust.

“Very often the All Blacks’ front five gets criticised even though they’re absolutely outstanding.

“Maybe we’re not hosing teams off the ball but we’ve a very good scrum that gives us a good platform and sometimes people overlook that.”

Asked about the differences between this tour and the Lions one, the Munster lock explained: “I think when we came over last year the media were set up to take us on just as much as the All Blacks were set up to take us on.

“The game is played on Saturday night, not all week through the media. There’s not much bluffing going on (this time around). You turn up on Saturday night and play, and if you do well, you win.

“The other thing is that with the British and Irish Lions the only thing they (the locals) saw was British and when you come over here as Irish people they tend to treat you a bit different.”

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