Paul O’Connell credits Joe Schmidt with bringing clarity to Irish game
Captain hails massive impact new coach has brought to job in his first season
Captain Paul O’Connell believes coach Joe Schmidt has brought clarity to Ireland’s play. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Talismanic lock O’Connell said head coach Schmidt’s visionary management was pivotal to Ireland turning their fifth-place Six Nations finish in 2013 on its head.
Ireland clinched this year’s title with Saturday’s 22-20 triumph over France in Paris and is the latest in a string of notable successes on Schmidt’s coaching CV, which also includes one Ranfurly Shield win, two Heineken Cups, the Pro12 league title, an Amlin Challenge Cup and a French Top 14.
And 34-year-old Munster totem O’Connell was keen to hail Schmidt’s methods after celebrating his first international victory on French soil, believing the New Zealander’s relentless attention to detail frees up Ireland’s stars to perform, no matter what pressure.
“I’ve been going to Paris since I was 22 and that’s my first win,” said O’Connell, already eyeing next autumn’s World Cup in England.
“Joe’s had a massive impact, no doubt.
“It was a poor, disappointing, frustrating season last year, albeit injury-plagued as well.
“He’s brought what you’d hear Leinster players saying for the last few years.
“He’s brought real clarity, a very effective way of rucking, and people are in no doubt of their role.
“I just think when you have a good team and you can give players that kind of clarity, it allows them to be good players.
“He instils a lot of confidence in those around him with his philosophy, his strategy and his detail.
“It gives the younger guys in the squad a winning habit, and that’s important with the challenges ahead, especially leading into the World Cup.
“We’ve got to harness that confidence and belief in that build-up now, to give ourselves every chance.”
Ireland’s 2009 Grand Slam, the first in 48 years, was meant to be the watershed moment for a golden generation.
Instead stalwarts like O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy and O’Connell had to endure a barren five-year run, as Wales wrestled European dominance.
Ireland’s 13-10 Twickenham defeat this term dashed dreams of another Grand Slam, but O’Connell does not believe that dilutes the achievement of winning the championship.
O’Connell believes Ireland have won the Six Nations the hard way, with trips to England and France, and now hopes that winning feeling will permeate deep into the squad’s roots.
“We made real progress in the autumn; we took a step backwards against England but learned a lot from it,” said O’Connell.
“It’s very important to win a second championship in my career, every time you start a Six Nations you want to achieve something.
“Historically this is always our toughest Six Nations, with England and France away from home.
“To be able to win the championship with those two fixtures is a great achievement.
“There’s a measure of satisfaction certainly, there’s been an awful lot of close calls in the past.
“We’ve achieved a lot of provincial success, with Munster and Leinster, but this is where you really want to achieve it as an Irishman.
“To have made the progress we have in a year is great, but also have that progress endorsed with a trophy is a great feeling.”