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‘We’re Up Against Another Really Good Lineout Side’ – O’Connell

‘We’re Up Against Another Really Good Lineout Side’ – O’Connell

Paul O'Connell is pictured at the Complexe de la Chambrerie in Tours, which has been the Ireland squad's training base for the pool stages ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell is confident that the lineout work they have put in on the training pitch and in the video analysis rooms will lead to an improved set-piece return against Scotland.

Despite losing six of their 18 lineout throws (four of which came during the first 10 minutes), Andy Farrell’s men showed impressive resilience to emerge as 13-8 winners over South Africa in their last Pool B game.

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They return to the Stade de France this Saturday for the pool finale against Scotland, knowing that a win or a draw would put them through to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals. A defeat could also be enough, but dependent on bonus points.

Ireland enter the final round of the pool stages on 14 points, trailing South Africa by one and with Scotland in third place on 10 points. With the lineout set to be hotly contested again this weekend, O’Connell is backing his troops to continue where they left off against the Springboks.

“We haven’t done a lot differently,” he said, when asked about their lineout preparations this week. “Against South Africa, it was a tough start, they were good defensively and we were probably poor on our behalf on the drill.

“They managed to sneak an extra man in for one of the lineouts close to their line, which was disappointing, but fair play to them. They were really good at the start of the game.

“What I was really delighted with was how the lads worked through it, how Ronan Kelleher and the lineout leaders worked through it, figured it out and got us back on track.

“Mainly it has been having a look at where things have gone wrong. We haven’t trained or done anything differently. It has been really good learning for the lads and, fortunately for us, those learnings have come in games we have won.

“We are up against a really good lineout side again this weekend, who have caused problems for teams, and I’m sure they’ll cause us a few problems. It is just down to how we react and how we handle them.”

Scotland’s proficiency in the lineout has seen them win a tournament-high 15 lineouts per game, although their success rate of 85% is the eighth best. They have the second worst scrum success rate of 74%, losing the most per game (1.7).

In contrast, Ireland have secured 75% of their own lineout ball so far, averaging four lineouts lost per game. Their scrum success rate from the opening three rounds stands at 95%, with props Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong ever-present in the starting XV.

Another player who stood out for his contribution against the ‘Boks was Iain Henderson. He came on for the final half an hour and had an assured presence up front, bringing a physical edge, claiming three lineouts and ending the match as the on-field captain.

With the 31-year-old having three tidy second half cameos in recent weeks, O’Connell said of his former team-mate: “Hendy has been excellent. He has to prepare the opposition team in training, prepare the bench, be ready to play with less reps than some of the starters and he does that without any fuss or hassle.

“He makes people feel good, so he’s been brilliant for us. The thing with Hendy, it’s just about getting matches back to back, but getting training back to back as well. It’s been great to see him do that this summer.

“I don’t think he’s missed a training session and some of the training session have been hard. So, I think he is in a really good place and you can see that now whenever he comes off the bench.”

Through their current record winning streak of 16 matches, Ireland have shown an enviable ability to back up big results, from Dunedin and Wellington in July 2022, back to Dublin to beat South Africa and Australia, and this year’s Grand Slam, which included an injury-disrupted victory away to Scotland.

Assistant coach Mike Catt said the players’ ‘calmness in the heat of battle’ was vital last time out against the ‘Boks, as they pulled through to get the win amid growing levels of expectation and pressure.

Taking the emotion out of it and just focusing on the next task has allowed them to build a winning mentality that had some of its foundations in the previous coaching regime.

Current head coach Farrell was part of the Joe Schmidt-led coaching team that oversaw Grand Slam success and a 12-match winning run through to the summer of 2018. The following year’s Rugby World Cup did not go to plan, but lessons were undoubtedly learned.

“Being able to not rely massively on emotion is a big part of it,” O’Connell said of the consistent form of Farrell’s men, who still have the likes of Peter O’Mahony to set the emotional tone and raise it when required.

It’s always a big strength of ours how much the lads love playing for Ireland and how important the history of the team is.

“The lads love playing for each other, love playing for Ireland and pulling on the jersey and what it means and all that. But that is the icing on the cake now rather than the whole cake.

“In fairness it would have come in under Joe – that ability to focus on what is right in front of you and not get too far ahead of yourself.

“They have a big appetite for just getting better and improving, both individually and as a group. When you get into that, you acknowledge the significance of what might happen if you win a game, sure, but you’re able to ignore it as well.”

It is an approach that has served them well, and with the knockout rugby effectively starting in Saint-Denis on Saturday night, O’Connell said the Ireland camp are ‘well aware of the permutations but the focus really is on winning’.