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O’Donnell: History Counts For Little Ahead Of Cardiff ‘Cup Final’

O’Donnell: History Counts For Little Ahead Of Cardiff ‘Cup Final’

Ireland may have won on five of their seven previous trips to the Millennium Stadium, but flanker Tommy O’Donnell insists they cannot cling to past memories in Cardiff ahead of next week’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Wales.

Tommy O’Donnell made a 16-minute cameo in Ireland’s 26-3 win over Wales in Dublin last year and has come on in leaps and bounds since then, winning a further four caps including starts against Georgia and Italy.

In fact, the Tipperary man has an enviable 100% winning record as an Ireland player. He has lined out in eight wins over the USA, Canada, Scotland, Wales, South Africa, Georgia, Italy and England since the summer of 2013.

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He claimed his first RBS 6 Nations try against Italy last month and enjoyed arguably his best international display as a first half replacement for Sean O’Brien against the English last time out.

Looking forward to locking horns with the Welsh, O’Donnell warned: “You can’t go over to Cardiff on past glories. You have to be in the moment and you don’t make a tackle on last year’s game, you know? You have to be there in the moment, keep going through it with the next tackle, next ruck and keep working to the best of your ability. That’s what wins games.

“Wales are a good attacking side, they went to France and beat France. That’s a fair achievement, so they’ve got very big ball carriers, incredibly physical players and they’re quite mobile and agile. They don’t take any prisoners in their pack, they’re great defenders and good at the breakdown. To go over there to Cardiff will make it a small bit tougher.”

O’Donnell has twice slotted in seamlessly into the Irish back row in this year’s Championship, replacing O’Brien as a late starter against Italy and then 25 minutes into the England game.

He made the best of both situations, explaining: “I suppose if you can come in off the bench straight off the warm-up, it’s not going to get much harder than that. Coming off the bench against England I was thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve done this before’. It was just a matter of slotting in and doing what I do, going about it to the best of my ability.

“(I was) very happy with how it went (against England). I got the early call off the bench again and just slotted in nicely, got a couple of early carries and felt the game went well. I found the Italian game incredibly physical, trying to attack them.

“The English lads are big ball carriers. Maybe missing out on that first 20 minutes, that’s where it might have been a lot tighter. It was physical, but it was on a par with the likes of the Italy game.”

O’Donnell linked up with the squad last Wednesday for a two-day camp in Belfast which included walking through some of their attack they will use next week. A gym session followed before another review and an intense ‘short and sharp’ pitch session. And the training also focused on certain elements that were found wanting against England. 

“The mood is good. We can’t get ahead of ourselves, there’s still two games. England were where we are in last year’s Championship and ended up coming second, so you have to just treat every game from now on like a cup final. Scotland are waiting at the end, but we have to look at Wales first.

“We have certain elements, I’m not going to give anything away. They’ll be honed and refined next week and we’ll see where we go from there.

“With Wales, they’re already talking about our physicality and being a clinical side, so they’re going to bring that huge physicality and I think they’re talking about matching us there. We have to be accurate, match the physicality and be as good as we can be. Hopefully the result will go our way then.”

The 27-year-old feels that the competition in the Irish back row has seen players continue to raise their game. It breeds confidence in Joe Schmidt’s squad as they take another step forward this year.

Despite newer, more inexperienced players coming into the set-up – with the likes of the injured Chris Henry, O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip having to be replaced – the team does not suffer because of that current strength in depth. It is a statement of where Irish rugby is at the moment.

That squad depth will certainly be tested by Wales and O’Donnell, who comes up against Warren Gatland’s players week in, week out in the PRO12, knows how capable they are when the regions combine as one.

“They like to set it up with the forwards and come back with big, strong backs running hard lines. They can put the ball up in the air then and they’ve got guys to chase like (Leigh) Halfpenny and (George) North. Having played a full game against a combined Welsh team, they’re very good in their regions but even better when they come together as a Welsh team,” he admitted.

“They take all the best parts of all the players and fit a system. So it’ll be really physical and if they manage to get the upper hand on us they’re right back in the Championship, so it all comes down to this.

“The likes of Samson Lee, a young guy stepping up, filling in after a Lion with multiple caps in Adam Jones. Being able to step in and fill his shoes more than adequately is a tribute. They’ve got quality in depth as well, so we have to be very wary of them.”