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O’Connell: It’s A Great Honour And Something I’ll Savour In The Future

O’Connell: It’s A Great Honour And Something I’ll Savour In The Future

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell insists the best is yet to come from Joe Schmidt’s men ahead of Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Wales.

Paul O’Connell will win his 100th cap when he leads the defending champions and current table toppers out at the Millennium Stadium, a venue where Ireland won 30-22 two years ago.

A tough video review after the recent victory against England kept the players’ feet firmly on the ground, and O’Connell readily acknowledged the size of the task facing his side in the Cardiff cauldron.

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“While the England game was a great result I think there were a lot of things we would like to improve on. England are a great side but I don’t think they played well against us and of all the teams Wales later in the Championship playing at home in the Millennium Stadium, we’re going to come across a great side that are probably going to play great as well. That’s going to be a bigger challenge I think than England, given the performance they produced (in Paris) two weeks ago,” insisted the Limerick man.

“We’ve looked back at the last game to help us move forward, and then just fully focus on the next game, and not almost look beyond the first half of the next game, that’s the way Joe (Schmidt) does things. When you’re in with a shout of winning a Championship or whatever, it’s a good way to prepare and to avoid distraction.”

O’Connell may be in the final stages of his playing career, but he continues to have a huge appetite for the game, admitting that rugby training, weight training, fitness and video analysis have never been a chore for him.

The 35-year-old explained: “There’s certain things that continue to improve. I think physically, I’m probably not where I was, but that’s the challenge I suppose – to try and get to where I was when I was 25 or 26. I’m probably not there at the moment, I think there’s still work to do in that regard.

“But there’s other parts of it. I think experience certainly counts. I think it’s something you don’t have a lot of respect for when you’re young, but there is a lot to be said for it.

“I’ve been through ups and downs with injury, been through ups and downs with teams that have been successful and unsuccessful or underachieved. I suppose you learn a bit along the way and learn to manage yourself and help out the team a little better.”

O’Connell jogged around the Millennium Stadium with young back row replacement Jordi Murphy at the Captain’s Run today. Murphy is one of the Irish players who has never played at the home of Welsh rugby before.

His captain is, of course, no stranger to the world famous Cardiff ground having beaten Biarritz Olympique (2006) and Toulouse (2008) in Heineken Cup finals there and lost the 2002 decider to Leicester Tigers.

O’Connell, who has scored three of his six Test tries against Wales, holds a record of seven wins in 12 against the Welsh – the most notable of which was the 2009 Grand Slam success secured by Ronan O’Gara’s dramatic drop goal.

The Munster lock thought Ireland had lost that game towards the end but breathed a big sigh of relief as Stephen Jones’ last-gasp penalty attempt missed the target. Six years on he is approaching his 100th Ireland Test with relish as he joins a select group of centurions (John Hayes, O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll).

“It’s obviously a great honour, but it’s something you look back at in time rather than dwelling on it now. I think in some ways, your first cap is probably a more nerve-wracking experience I suppose.

“I’ve been through it before, but it is a great honour and it’s a nice little group of Irish guys who have done it before that I’m joining, so I’m very honoured,” concluded O’Connell.