Ireland captain Paul O’Connell reckons winning back-to-back titles would be the perfect end to what might be the second row’s last ever RBS 6 Nations Championship.
Paul O’Connell had his team-mates completely at their ease during the Captain’s Run at BT Murrayfield today, playing a fun-filled game of touch rugby at walking pace, with the hard work already done in advance of Saturday’s showdown with Scotland.
Despite last week’s defeat in Wales, O’Connell and his troops could still become the first Ireland team to retain the Championship since the Jack Kyle-inspired days of 1948 and 1949.
“I’d love to win another Championship. There have been plenty of close calls throughout my career, particularly under Eddie (O’Sullivan) when it looked like we were never going to get there at times. It would be great but it’s a massive obstacle tomorrow. I know where Scotland will be mentally, I’ve been there before like in 2011 when we played England,” explained the Limerick man.
“So it’s a massive challenge, and talking about Championships is something that’s not on my mind at the moment. It’s just a big focus on a big performance and a big start to the game tomorrow.”
O’Connell feels the mood in camp has not changed from when they were going for a record-breaking 11th straight win against Wales last Saturday. Those shortcomings in Cardiff were quickly addressed and Joe Schmidt’s men are clearly thankful for this immediate chance to redeem themselves against the Scots.
The Munster lock, who did not play in the 2013 defeat to the Scots at Murrayfield, has compared what it is sure to be a dramatic final day to what the provinces often face in fighting for knockout spots in Europe.
“It’s kind of like Heineken Cup or Champions Cup, where it’s a dangerous place to go to start thinking about anything but winning the game. You’ll have a plan going into a game of how to beat a team and you’ll be trying to execute that as well as you can.
“That’s all we’ve spoken about, that’s all we’ve addressed. Our big focus is starting the game well, starting the game in a disciplined fashion and getting ourselves off on the right foot. It’s the same as if we were coming over looking for a one-point win. That’s all you can do, whatever happens happens.”
Bottom side Scotland have been close to claiming wins in this campaign, with three points separating them from Wales, there was a seven-point split against France and a last-minute penalty try dashed their hopes of a home victory over Italy.
They are now fighting to avoid the Wooden Spoon and O’Connell expressed his surprise that they are in such a position. Having played against Clermont Auvergne sides coached by current Scottish boss Vern Cotter, he knows that they are usually well drilled in every facet of the game.
“I suppose I’ve played against teams coached by Vern Cotter for a few years and they’re excellent sides. I don’t think Scotland have been ‘well beaten’ in any of their games, I think they were very unlucky not to get some results. No team has pulled away from them, every game has been really tight even going back to the New Zealand game (in November), the autumn games.
“The same with us last year (at home to Scotland). It was very close around half-time, we were 6-3 up and we managed to pull away. I’m surprised (they are bottom) and we have a lot of respect for them.
“A big spine of the team is the Glasgow team which has been so consistent over the last number of years, incredibly difficult to beat, especially over here. We’ve a lot of respect for them and I am surprised they’re in this position.”
The threat O’Connell feels is most apparent is that the Scots could sting Ireland. Like England, in 2011, who came to Dublin trying to win a Championship at a time when Ireland were struggling for form. But that game was the spark that ignited a massive performance from the hosts. Ireland only had pride to play for and with nothing to lose, they played brilliantly to register a 24-8 triumph.
Recalling that day four years ago, he commented: “We started at 100 miles an hour and we didn’t stop. Those are the dangers of days like tomorrow, so that’s why the preparation hasn’t changed. In fairness, whenever we’ve won a game, there’s always been loads of things to improve on and loads of things we’ve been disappointed with.
“It’s been the same this weekend. Obviously we lost last weekend, but there’s a load of things we want to improve. A big part of what we’re doing is trying to improve week on week and that’s just the way we’ve prepared.
“We’ve prepared to improve on last week, to get better at that and then prepared for how we’re going to try and go about winning a rugby match against Scotland. There hasn’t been a whole lot of discussion on what may happen and the situation they’re in, the situation we’re in. We’ve certain things we need to do, I’m sure they’ve certain things as well, and that’s the way we prepare every week.”
With four teams (England, Ireland, Wales and France) still having a mathematical chance of lifting the new RBS 6 Nations trophy and the three final fixtures taking place one after the other, there are plenty of distractions for the players involved.
But Ireland’s captain certainly will not let his team-mates take their eye off the ball. The workload has been managed well throughout the Irish squad and they are in a good position physically at the tail-end of such a closely-fought Championship.
“If we were coming over to play Scotland here in any other year, we would be coming over here to win the game first and foremost. That would be the sole focus on our minds and that would be the same case tomorrow. That is what I have been preaching to the players, that is what Joe has been preaching to the players.
“We have been in this position. Lots of players have been in this position with Heineken Cups and Champion Cups in the past. It is dangerous territory. You just have to focus on trying to win the game, trying to do as well as you can from the first minute of the game and try to win it and whatever happens happens,” he concluded.