Paul O’Connell: Ireland World Cup win is ‘long, long way away’
Captain admits players got reality check after defeat to Wales in Dublin
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell during the Captain’s Run at Twickenham on Friday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
The sense that the build-up to the World Cup has been intensified this week was underlined by Paul O’Connell after Ireland’s Captain’s Run at Twickenham on Friday.
In what he hopes will not be his latest farewell appearance to the ground, given Twickenham hosts the semi-finals and final weekend, returning to the headquarters of English rugby re-affirmed to the Irish captain the scale of the challenge they face from the World Cup hosts.
“It’s always a massive game, always a massive game for an Irish team playing England there’s no doubt about it, and playing at Twickenham is bigger again. They’ve been the standard bearers, the only Northern Hemisphere team to win a World Cup, and the way they’ve been building has been very impressive.
“They probably had two of the most impressive performances of the Six Nations, winning in Wales and then the last day against France. I suppose you go into these games with a heightened sense of fear almost, and respect, and hopefully it makes you play well.”
O’Connell laughed off one question put to him as to whether he’d like to win the World Cup.
“I’d love to win a World Cup but it’s a long, long way away now. And I’ll tell you, the Monday morning after the Wales game, when we reviewed it, it felt a long, long way away as well.
“For me I don’t think there’s any value in me or us getting distracted by that. I think the week after you lose you wonder almost why you’re playing anymore, and Monday was tough. After the Scotland game I thought we were going to put a whole lot of things right, unfortunately we didn’t and you just find out a lot about how far you have to go.
“So we need to get those things right this weekend and start building now, so winning the World Cup, it would be great but it’s very much not at the forefront of my mind.”
True to type, Warren Gatland strove to up the ante for Saturday’s two Twickenham protagonists during the week. In the aftermath of beating Ireland, a potential semi-final opponent, and in advance of meeting England in Wales’ second pool match, the Welsh coach ventured that the stakes had risen for England and Ireland, given the lack of momentum a second successive defeat would mean for the losers, all the more so after selecting strong sides.
“You’d love to go into the World Cup having won, but if you don’t win, you just deal with it and get on with it,” said O’Connell. “From our point of view, it’s about putting together certain things that help us play well. We recognise those when we lose and we recognises those when we haven’t done them when we win as well.
“I think in that Scotland game, there would have been a whole lot of things we would have loved to have done better as well, even though we came out the wrong side of the result. So that’s the big emphasis for us as always.
“There’s always a few things we need to do really well that leads to a big performance and we’ll be eager to do those this weekend. Hopefully that leads to a big performance and also a result.”
Nor did the scale of England’s defeat in Paris, and especially the beating they took up front for an hour, make them a bad pack or bad side in O’Connell’s estimation.
“I don’t think there’s weaknesses, I think every team has days like that no matter how good you are. It’s rare, if ever, you’ve seen that happen to an English team in the last few years under Lancaster so, we’ve no doubt how pumped up they will be for the physical aspect of the game given what happened in Paris.
“I think it’s a slightly different team now as well. Geoff Parling and Tom Wood are two very good lineout options as well. I’ve no doubt they’ll be eager to reply to the physicality of that performance in Paris.”
Forwards coach Simon Easterby identified the breakdown as a key area. “The breakdown is always going to be difficult, referee is important and making sure we stay on the right side of the law.
“Paulie’s alluded to it, we probably slipped off some of our standards in the contact area last weekend, and some of that was our discipline.
“The contact area is where you generate that type of ball you need to break good defences down, which England have. And we need to be certainly improved in that area for us to make sure we get on the front foot and get the type of ball we feel we need to break the defence down.
“So the contact area along with a number of areas will be key in making sure we stay on the right side of the law as well, that’s important.”