Namibia and Georgia may not rank in the same class as France and Argentina, but lock Paul O’Connell admits Ireland will be treating their first two World Cup Pool D opponents very seriously.
With just over a week to the start of the World Cup, Ireland are entering the final stage of their preparations and are determined to hit the ground running when they open their pool campaign against Namibia in Bordeaux on September 9.
Namibia may be ranked 24th in the world and have little chance of making the quarter-finals, but O’Connell knows the Africans are worthy opponents and must be respected.
“We’ll be treating the first two games very seriously. It would be foolish to dismiss anyone in this tournament, it has never been our way and it never will be,” he said.
“It’s the first game of our World Cup and everyone is going to be focused on it. We will be treating it the same as every other Test match, that’s what you have to do. In the professional era, that’s something that you get better and better at – treating every game as big as the last one.
“We have to beat Namibia and Georgia to even get a crack at France and Argentina in the later games, so we’re under no illusions.”
Competition for places in the Ireland team is at an all-time high and O’Connell reckons that competition could inspire the men in green to great things at France 2007.
“You’ve got to realise that guys are playing for places in every game. There will be no stones left unturned and there will be huge competition for places. If we could get a big start, it would put us in great form to challenge France.”
Dismissing Ireland’s less-than-impressive form in the warm-up matches, the Munster giant insisted that “the real time to show form is in the pool matches and the knock-out stages and hopefully we can do that.”
O’Connell quiet literally came of age during the 2003 World Cup – he turned 24 during the tournament in Australia and was heralded as a new second row star – and now fit and raring to go, he is looking forward to making his mark again four years on.
“We’ve had some game-time and I think once you get those two or three games under your belt then you can see how fit you are. No matter how much you work in pre-season, you always struggle in those games. After those matches you start feeling where you are. You either start feeling bad or good and I’m pretty happy where I am.”
There will be extra focus on O’Connell in the game against Namibia as with Brian O’Driscoll still recovering from a fractured sinus, the Limerick man will stand in as team captain.
“It puts a bit more pressure on,” said O’Connell of the captaincy. “But while it’s a tough job for a year, it’s a nice job if it only has to last for a week or two. It’s not something that scares me.”
The big news of the week was Eddie O’Sullivan’s reappointment as Ireland coach for another four years, and the decision was met with universal approval by O’Connell and the Irish squad. “Eddie announced it to us early on Wednesday and there has been a good reaction. I think we have a very professional set-up here and a lot of that is down to Eddie.”