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O'Connell relishing intensity of forward battle on 6 Nations return

Having sat out last season’s Six Nations through injury, the captain is happy to go back to basics against Scotland.
Jan 31st 2014, 6:54 PM 4,620 4

IT’S TIME FOR Ireland to move on.

This time last year Paul O’Connell was nothing more than an agitated spectator watching home Six Nations fixtures, injured, from the comfort of a sponsor’s box in the Aviva Stadium.

Now, maybe comfort wouldn’t be the first word O’Connell would use to describe the experience.

Instead he simply says “it’s great to be back on the pitch,” as he looks forward to resuming life as Ireland captain.

It’s great to have him back. The Munster lock is just one of those figures in Irish sport who can instantly command respect and have the ability to improve a team even on the rare days they dip below their best.

O’Connell was a replacement in the fourth of Ireland’s four victories last year. He could not improve that batting average against Australia and New Zealand, but 80 minutes against the latter certainly put a silver lining on an otherwise forgettable year at international level.

“That’s one of the things that was disappointing with us over the autumn,” O’Connell says.

“When Joe came, the technical and detail side of things were so new to us that we were slow to get going.

‘Intensity and physicality’

“That will be the main thing, as senior players, we’ll be trying to keep an eye on in this first game, to make sure that we’re technically sound and – from a detail point of view – sound, but making sure from an intensity and physicality point of view, which is probably one of the most important things in rugby, that we’re sound from that point of view as well.”

Scotland will come to Dublin aiming to spoil the game as a spectacle, wrapping up Irish carriers and slowing ruck ball down to a crawl in the hope of forcing errors on what promises to be a greasy ball.

The name Joe Schmidt instantly encourages the image of free-running rugby. But the Kiwi made his name by making Leinster an all-terrain vehicle, willing and able to chisel out results by any means.

Having trained in what he called ‘awkward conditions, the worst in a long time’ this week, O’Connell is relishing the promise of a forward battle.

“You learn a lot [in wet conditions], we’d all love to play in perfect conditions all the time. But sometimes there are days when you’ve just got to dig in and you need to work hard, on your kick-chase, your kicking game, you need to maul well, take teams on physically in the scrum and up front, and that’s probably what we’ve learned over the last two days.”

As for the past two months, Ireland as a nation has been riding a wave of positivity since suffering a late defeat to New Zealand. Ireland as a team on the other hand, insist that the game is well and truly behind them, only referencing the intensity and breakdown accuracy as a marker to be hit over and over again.

“It’s a great standard to have,! says the lock before adding:  ”I think we’ve a lot to prove, we’ve incredible talent in our side and we haven’t been playing well enough to match that talent, and I’d include two thirds of the autumn in that, so we’ve got a lot to prove.

“That performance against New Zealand, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be our standard and level every week. And I think if it isn’t the players probably need to look at themselves.”

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Sean Farrell

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