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O’Connell Aiming For Strong Finish To Series

O’Connell Aiming For Strong Finish To Series

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell insists the ‘toughest day’ of Joe Schmidt’s tenure – last November’s disappointing defeat to Australia – is driving the squad on this weekend.

Ireland lost 32-15 to the Wallabies at the Aviva Stadium a year ago in the second game under new management, but Six Nations title success followed and a rousing victory over South Africa two weeks ago. Paul O’Connell now hopes to claim the scalp of a second southern Hemisphere ‘super power’.

“It would be brilliant to beat Australia, there’s no doubt about it. It would be great to get a win this week, but it’s not something we talk about. There’s a whole lot of things we want to improve on from South Africa to Australia and that’s what the chat is about, improving the performance,” said the Irish skipper.

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“Australia are a super power. We were fairly roundly beaten by them last season in November, they mauled us over for a try. It was a very tough day and probably the toughest day since Joe (Schmidt) has been in charge. So, to beat Australia is always a big scalp for an Irish team.”

O’Connell reflected: “There was a lot of excitement when Joe took over the job. He’d been so successful with Leinster and we had a lot of really good things in place going into the game.

“But, ultimately, there’s a few things in rugby as well, that no matter who’s coaching or playing, who you’re playing or where you’re playing, that are really important. The physical confrontation, being built up for that and to be ready for that, is massive.”

Ireland failed in that regard last year and managed just one penalty in the second half after Jonathan Sexton was forced off with a hamstring injury at half-time.

Trailing 15-12 at the break, Ireland were unable to match Australia after the interval with Quade Cooper touching down just minutes after the restart and current captain Michael Hooper went on to complete his brace of tries.

O’Connell feels Ireland are a much improved outfit twelve months down the line, admitting: “That game last year we weren’t in the right place. Australia were just so far ahead of us in that regard.

“In so many aspects of the game they took us apart. That was the big disappointment in that game. That’s where we realised you have to be able to marry the two – you have to be able to marry the detail, the knowledge of your role, with the big, physical confrontation in rugby.”

While there has been plenty of media talk on Michael Cheika’s return to Ireland with the Wallabies side, the Joe Schmidt factor is one that O’Connell firmly believes is key to Ireland’s continued success.

The two latest victories over the Springboks and Georgia mean Ireland have a 75% winning ratio from Schmidt’s first 12 games in charge. Ending the calendar year by beating the Wallabies would see the men in green continue on an upward curve in terms of consistency and confidence.

Asked about Schmidt’s handling of the squad, O’Connell said: “He is an excellent coach. There’s no doubt he’s one of the best in the business. He’s very good at not just the technical stuff on the pitch, (but also) he’s very good at driving high standards all across the team. From everything that goes on in the team hotel, to how players interact with fans.

“There’s no doubt he’s been excellent and I think there’s a very good group of players there in the Irish squad that, I suppose, were ready to take advantage and work with a coach like Joe.

“It’s similar to the situation, I suppose, in Leinster when Cheika came along. He seemed to have done some great work, assembled a great squad and made them into a very hard-working, mentally tough team. I think Joe was in a good position to take advantage of that.”