Joe Schmidt lauds captain Paul O’Connell

Ireland coach gives special praise to Munster man about to win 100th cap

The people who know Paul O'Connell best talk about what drives him and how Ireland's captian became one of the greatest players to ever pull on the green jersey. Video: Three Ireland


It’s been interesting to watch their relationship grow. Coming, in effect, from Leinster and Munster, there was an inevitable getting-to-know-you start, but gradually the coach-captain partnership between Joe Schmidt and Paul O’Connell has blossomed to the point where the mutual respect is, one senses, as good as anything either of them have known.

As was the case for several Munster players to begin with, initially O’Connell admitted that Schmidt’s forensic attention to detail had him struggling to cope with the preparatory homework, and when Ireland came up short in Schmidt’s second outing against Australia before rousing themselves against New Zealand a week later, the coach probably realised even more what an inspirational leader he had at his disposal.

Indian summer

captained Ireland

Hence, O’Connell has led Ireland in nine of the 10 matches they have won on the bounce, and as he prepared to lead them out on the occasion of his 100th Test match for his country tomorrow, Schmidt spoke of his respect for O’Connell the man as much as O’Connell the player.

Having watched and plotted against O’Connell’s Munster for three seasons, Schmidt said: “The person I have come to know is exactly the person I thought he was from afar. He has got incredible self-drive, in an incredible intelligent man about the game, about particular aspects of the game. He is incredibly driven to improve his own performance and thereby leads others in doing that. That is what I have learnt even more.

Second Captains

“I suppose that has been confirmed to me in the period of time that we have spent working together over the last 18 months when I first started looking a little more broadly when I knew I was going to take the position and then since been in situ.”

It’s clearly been a meeting of minds, and Schmidt admitted that the intelligence O’Connell brings to the role of captain made not only his job easier, but those of the other Irish coaches as well.

“He and Simon Easterby have a fantastic working relationship. They played and deciphered lineouts and deciphered aspects of the game when they were playing together and now to be doing it as a coach/player, that is a really positive aspect of it for us.”

“One of the other things is that Paul doesn’t assume every leadership responsibility, he delegates and he encourages and so that is one of the fantastic things for the coaches as well, it means Jamie (Heaslip) has a definite role. He has some particular things that he leads on, that Johnny Sexton does, that Rob Kearney does, Peter O’Mahony, we have got a number of provincial leaders, Rory Best, who step up and take different roles of leadership so I think of the best things about Paul is that he doesn’t try to carry the whole weight of leadership on his own two shoulders.

“He is driven to make sure his performance is as good as he can make it and then he delegates some of that leadership but certainly grabs some of that leadership to take the team forward.”

Having confirmed an anticipated selection which sees the return of Heaslip, with Jordi Murphy reverting to the bench to the exclusion of the unlucky Tommy O’Donnell, Schmidt spoke of renewing acquaintances with Warren Gatland, a one-time team-mate and opposing player.

This game sees the meeting of two astute coaching tickets, and given the familiarity between the two bulk suppliers to the Lions, it will be fascinating to see whether either can surprise the other to any extent.

“I’m not sure what he’s thinking,” said Schmidt. “It’s almost double jeopardy to start to think about what he might think we might think we’re going to do, and then think that we might think about doing something else. And I’m not that smart – I got lost at the first ‘think’. So we’ll just try to work away, vary our game, and play as much as we can to our strengths.”

Schmidt played down concerns over Wayne Barnes’s refereeing of the game, albeit admitting that the concession of scrum penalties in a relatively high count of 11 penalties against France was disappointing, but in any event, after recording what he described as the biggest win of his tenure so far against England, this had assumed even more importance.

Exponential character

“It’s a massive game for a whole lot of reasons. An opportunity to do what no Irish team has ever done in the history of the game.”

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