Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has admitted the wait for challenging for a Six Nations title after the 2009 Grand Slam has been disappointing, with a second, two thirds and a fifth place finish in the intervening years.
But this year a different group of players, playing a different style of rugby under different coaching staff has reinvigorated the Ireland side according to Paul O’Connell.
“We would have loved to have kicked on after 2009 but it didn’t happen. That’s just life. It’s in the past. Now we just move forward,” he said.
“There is an excellent squad of players there, an excellent coaching staff and real potential. You just have to move forward.
“(This year has) been a very enjoyable Six Nations. Obviously a very disappointing defeat against England, but in terms of on the training field and on the pitch, it has been really enjoyable Six Nations.
“We’ve played some really good rugby, scored some really good tries. Hopefully that continues this weekend.”
O’Connell said it was hard to say what has been missing from previous Irish trips to France, having won just once there in 42 years – back in 2000 when a fresh-faced Brian O’Driscoll famously scored a hat-trick of tries.
The experienced second row felt that in previous games Ireland gave the French too much of a head start, with poor first half performances leaving them with too much to do at the end.
“In many ways this weekend is probably set up for that kind of start as well if we are not careful,” admitted the Limerick man.
“The French have had their backs to the wall all week from the media criticism point of view and that will have galvanised their team.
“There’s a certain amount of experience that has been relied on at that stage (the final quarter) with Conor Murray, myself, Jamie (Healsip), Darce (Gordon D’Arcy), Drico to make the right decisions at that right time.
“It’s important when you get a lead that you are clever in what you do, that you play in their half of the pitch but it is important you keep playing.”
Head coach Joe Schmidt has driven it home that when they call a play, no matter where it is, the focus is that single play.
He has instilled into the players that they do that play as aggressively as possible – and ‘with as much detail about being in the right place’ – as they try to get the process right.
O’Connell saw Ireland’s poor record against France continue two years ago as they let a 17-6 half-time lead slip as les Bleus fought back for a 17-17 draw.
The brilliance of the French according to the Ireland skipper is that they have the ability to fight back.
O’Connell underlined that Ireland cannot let their concentration slip given France’s strength of counter-attack off turnover ball.
“I’ve been there (Paris) two years ago and you get off to a great start, scored two good tries and they have such good talent that they can reel you back in. They can score from anywhere.
“Taking a lead and seeing it out is the same as trying to get a lead at the start of the game. It is about doing the simple things well and not giving them a look in.
“You look at last year’s game where with six minutes to go we were five points ahead. We concede a penalty off a scrum and they tap and go and get over the line.
“For us it is just about making sure we get the processes right, whether we are five points ahead or five points behind.
“You saw against England we went 10-3 up and then made some errors, some defensive errors, some kick-off errors, some missed tackles.
That is what gives the other team momentum. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the start of the game or the end of the game,” he added.