Ireland were left dejected. Billy Stickland/INPHO

O'Connell believes Ireland inspired the nation despite World Cup exit

The Ireland forwards coach was frustrated by a few lineout losses against the All Blacks.

IT WAS ALREADY into the wee hours of the morning by the time Paul O’Connell made it down to the interview area in the bowels of Stade de France.

The Ireland team bus was nearly ready to go but the Ireland forwards coach kept them waiting a few more minutes as he tried to make sense of the nerve-wracking and ultimately gut-wrenching events of Saturday night.

And really, like the rest of us, O’Connell found it hard to neatly sum up a thrilling match that ended with a familiar outcome for Irish rugby. Ireland will have to watch the semi-finals from back home, with Farrell’s men flying from Paris to Dublin today, after coming up just short in their thrilling quarter-final against New Zealand.

“Just disappointed,” said O’Connell.

“Going 13-0 down was frustrating and then I felt when we did have the ball and we did get field position I felt we could score, I didn’t think we’d struggle to score.

“So, it’s just 13-0… even though we managed to mount it, you’d rather be accumulating scores without them having 13 on the board already.

“A few parts of the game were frustrating. Disappointing that they stole two lineouts clean but one of the ones they swatted they actually got the field position off that and scored the [second] try.

“I know it’s an old cliché, small margins, but New Zealand are a good side and it’s not like we needed everything to go our way. It’s not like that in rugby, there’s rarely a game that goes your way, but there’s one or two things more tonight that didn’t go our way and that gave us a mountain to climb.”

While Ireland had an excellent lineout performance against Scotland in their final pool game, they coughed up some key platforms in the win over South Africa and had a few stutters in this defeat to the Kiwis. That tends to happen against the best defensive lineouts.

“I think we lost three,” said O’Connell when asked if there had been a recurring theme.

peter-omahony-competes-in-the-lineout-with-scott-barrett The Irish lineout came under pressure from New Zealand. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“They’re a good defensive lineout, New Zealand. I think we have the best defensive lineout, they might be the second-best. They guessed right on two of them. They didn’t really hurt us that much but then they got a hand to another one which got spilled and then they got the field position and scored a try off that.

“So that was frustrating. There were a lot of very good things in our lineout tonight but we’ll look back on those three and regret them for a while maybe.”

Irish emotions ran high at the final whistle as Johnny Sexton bid farewell to the brilliant travelling support with his son, Luca, by his side.

Keith Earls’ time with Ireland also drew to a close, while head coach Andy Farrell acknowledged that this was the end of an era.

There was an emotional scene just before the game too, with Ireland’s players forming a figure of eight when they faced the haka in memory of the late Anthony Foley, two days before the seventh anniversary of his death.

“The players decided,” said O’Connell of that gesture. “They’d all be very conscious of Anthony, the Munster lads and Pete [O'Mahony] in particular would be very conscious. Around this time of year in October, it all comes to our mind a little bit.

“It was the players’ idea and as coaches we were delighted because their thing is they want to inspire the nation, they want to have respect for the people who have gone before them as well.

“I think people will have identified what they did, enjoyed it, and it would have been good for Anthony’s family as well.

“A lot of these guys are unbelievably professional, but they like a bit of old school as well. They like looking back on the old players, things like that. So, it’s a lovely mark of respect for Anthony that they did that today.”

ireland-team-face-the-haka-in-a-shape-of-eight-in-memory-of-anthony-foley Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

O’Connell does believe that Ireland’s players managed to inspire people back home during this World Cup, despite the quarter-final exit.

“I think they have. I’d say they’re probably feeling like they’ve let everyone down now, you know, but they love the connection with the supporters, they love that almost more than winning I think.

“And we’ve generally won on the back of it. It’s something that means a lot to them and that they’ve really enjoyed. So it’s just a pity in this important competition that we couldn’t kick on and create a bit of history along with it.”

And before he departed for the waiting team bus, O’Connell stated his belief that the future is bright even if there are some legendary figures moving on.

“They’re fantastic and we get them really well coached, that’s the thing,” said O’Connell of the younger Irish players.

“I think we’ve done a good job with the players, but the coaching at academy level is so well done, great coaching at U20s level, and then in the provinces as well.

“We manage to do a lot of good work on the back of what goes on in the provinces and the way professional rugby in the IRFU is run.”

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