Captain Paul O’Connell said emulating the 1948-1949 Ireland team in winning back-to-back Championships is an incredible achievement for Irish rugby’s class of 2015. With the great Jack Kyle having passed away last November, O’Connell felt there might have been someone watching down at them as their hard work paid off with a title-clinching win over Scotland.
Pointing at Jamie Heaslip’s last-ditch tackle which denied Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg a try late on – a crucial intervention as Ireland ended up winning the RBS 6 Nations by just six points – Paul O’Connell felt the second successive title win proved what a good team they are.
“I’ve been involved in plenty of games where the rub of the green has gone against us, but Jamie’s tackle today was an incredible piece of skill. I don’t think there was any luck about it. I suppose a lot of things did happen over three games like that, for us to come out on top. Maybe someone was smiling down on us, I don’t know, but it is just an incredible feeling,” he said afterwards.
“This is my 13th Championship. Anytime you win a Championship, I don’t care what way we play. To win a Championship is an amazing feeling, and to go back-to-back in the Six Nations is incredible.
“It’s a very, very difficult thing to do, particularly as Ireland is a small island with four professional teams. It just goes to show how good the athletes and the players we have are, and I think the way the provinces are run, and the way, strength and conditioning-wise, we are run too. We have smaller resources but we’re right up there.”
Joe Schmidt and O’Connell mentioned the behind-the-scenes work of strength and conditioning coach Jason Cowman, in particular, in getting the squad fit and ready throughout the entire tournament. The tough demands placed on the players paid off with silverware once again as Ireland continue to build towards the Rugby World Cup later this year.
“You’d love to go there (to the World Cup) and do well, but one thing that’s suited us in the last 18 months is the way we’ve prepared. We haven’t got too far ahead of ourselves. I’m sure the coaches look at the bigger picture but as players we just look directly ahead, and that suits us,” added O’Connell.
In recent days, Schmidt, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony have all spoken glowingly about the Irish captain’s impact on the team. O’Connell told the players that whatever happened in Rome or Twickenham was irrelevant as Ireland needed to focus on Scotland and get the job done before the different permutations came into play.
The experiences of needing to get a required winning margin or amount of tries at European club level stood to the Irish players, but they were comfortable in the strategy employed going into the game. Watching England score 55 points against France was ‘an incredible feat’ and ‘possibly the best performance of the tournament’ admitted the Munster lock.
Reflecting on an exciting climax to a ‘bizarre’ day, he commented: “When you’re playing in a match and you’re trying to win it like last season at the Stade de France, you’re just trying to focus on the next moment or whatever happens next. The scoreline and all that is probably your only focus, and when you’re in the heat of battle, those nerves, those feelings don’t come into it.
“When you’re sitting there at the table with a few of the lads with a beer in front of you watching on the TV, you’re like a supporter. You’re completely powerless as to influencing the result, and it’s just such a bizarre day, even the crowd afterwards (at Murrayfield) and the music – it was like Robbie Henshaw’s 21st birthday there, with the ’80s hits coming out! It was just an incredible day, it’s a lot better craic than last year anyway!”
Lastly, O’Connell paid tribute to Schmidt, saying the players have complete trust and confidence in the coaching staff, including assistant coach Les Kiss, forwards coach Simon Easterby, scrum coach Greg Feek and kicking coach Richie Murphy.
“Yeah, Joe is right up there (with being the best coach). He’s a fantastic coach. I think the trust the players have in what he does and what his coaching staff do is a massive part of why we’re successful.
“Certainly times like Australia in the first game (in November 2013), the England game last year, Wales last week, those were times where other teams might question themselves – but we never did. I don’t think we’ve ever once done that. There’s a lot of trust and a lot of confidence in the coaches.”