EVEN WITH LIMITED time in contact with Ireland’s new coaching team, Paul O’Connell is happy with what he sees.
Les Kiss is the only member of Declan Kidney’s back-room team to stay on under Joe Schmidt, but O’Connell is confident that the past achievements of both the new international chief and his forwards coach John Plumtree bode well for Ireland.
The latter may well forge a close working relationship with O’Connell in future, but this weekend gave little opportunity for the forward pack to focus. There were no scrums, no kick-offs practiced, just a handful of line-outs to set off attacking moves. This was a camp for the entire group to come together:
“Everyone has different ways of doing things,” O’Connell says of the change at the top. “Joe has his tried and trusted way of running his teams and the way Leinster have looked in the past number of years, it’s hard not to trust that.
“We haven’t done a whole lot on the pitch with him, but what we have done has been really enjoyable and really stimulating.”
So, what have the Ireland squad been up to this weekend?
“There are certain parts of the game around the carry and around the tackle which are really important and make a big difference to the success of the rest of your game. He’s made it clear what he requires from guys, and it gives them something to work on when they’re away from the national set-up. That kind of clarity is great to work with.”
“We’ve gone through certain things Joe is looking for from players, things Les is looking for in games. The guys are eager to try and deliver that over the next few weeks when they’re playing with their province so they can put themselves with a good chance of selection.”
He added: “Joe’s very quick to spot when guys aren’t sure what they’re doing or don’t have their heads screwed on.”
Having endured a torrid time with injury over the past two years, O’Connell’s main hope for the season is to stay healthy and keep himself at a fitness level comparable to that attained before the opening Lions test – before he broke his arm.
By doing that, he’ll be able to join in on the competition for places. A feature, he points out, which has been a central tenet of Joe Schmidt sides from the moment he arrived in Ireland, to this week’s 42-strong training camp.
“It’s one of the strengths Leinster have had over the past couple of years, their competition for places. Nobody feels secure in their place. In the feedback from the guys that seems to be something Joe is big into and we’ve big numbers in here for a few days, pretty much two teams training against each other with a few guys swapping in and out.
“Everyone genuinely feels that with form they’ve a chance of playing the series. it’s always a good thing for the team.”
“We all know what’s expected of us, we’ve worked under different coaches down the years and you just get on with it – Any time you work with someone new and as successful as Joe Schmidt it’s always a good thing for you.
“We’ve only had a small number of sessions with him, but they’ve been really enjoyable, really stimulating.
I’ve really enjoyed it and i hope it continues in that vein.”