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O'Connell: Ireland better prepared to face 'super power' Australia than last year

The Ireland captain says last year’s defeat to the Australia was ‘probably the toughest day since Joe has been in charge’.

O'Connell and his teammates pose for their official photo at the Aviva today.
O'Connell and his teammates pose for their official photo at the Aviva today.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WHATEVER ABOUT IRELAND’s tag as favourites for the meeting with Australia in Dublin tomorrow, captain Paul O’Connell insists Michael Cheika’s side are a world “super power.”

Any slight possibility of overconfidence on Ireland’s part has been swiftly remedied by recalling last season’s meeting with the Wallabies, when Joe Schmidt and his players were well beaten on a 32-15 scoreline.

Those were different times for Schmidt’s Ireland, as the Kiwi coach was still embedding the ideas and standards that are now a routine part of life for O’Connell and his teammates.

Ireland’s rise has been recognised by the official World Rugby rankings, and by other renowned rugby nations, but O’Connell is adamant that beating the Wallabies would still constitute “a scalp”.

It would be brilliant to beat Australia, there’s no doubt about it,” says O’Connell. “They are a super power. We were fairly roundly beaten by them last season in November. They mauled us over for a try.

“It was a very tough day and probably the toughest day since Joe has been in charge. To beat them in any period of the season, whether it’s the summer or whether it’s in November, to beat Australia is always a big scalp for an Irish team.”

Paul O'Connell Ireland undertook their captain's run in the rain this afternoon. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Indeed, the defeat to the Wallabies this time last year remains the poorest Irish performance in the Schmidt era, even if it was swiftly followed up by an excellent showing against New Zealand.

O’Connell’s memories of that loss in 2013 hinge on Ireland’s lack of physicality. An overfocus on the technical and tactical details had seen Schmidt’s men allow the physicality to slip out of focus.

I think there was a lot of excitement when Joe took over the job,” says O’Connell. “He’d been so successful with Leinster and I think we had a lot of really good things in place going into the game.

“But ultimately there’s a few things in rugby as well, that no matter who’s coaching or playing, or who you’re playing or where you’re playing, that are really important. The physical confrontation, being built up for that and ready for that, is massive.

“And I think in that game last year we weren’t in the right place, and they [Australia] were just so far ahead of us in that regard. In so many aspects of the game they took us apart.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt speaks to his team in Dublin. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“That was the big disappointment in that game, that’s where we realised you have to be able to marry the two, you have to be able to marry the detail, the knowledge of your role, with the big, physical confrontation in rugby.”

Michael Cheika’s side will bring a different challenge to Dublin this weekend, even if many of the personnel are similar. Whatever about the opposition, O’Connell understandably believes that this Ireland group is in a very different place to 12 months ago.

“We are a lot more used to what we are doing,” explains O’Connell. “This time last year it was new territory for a lot of us.

There is a lot of things asked of us that hadn’t been asked of us before, in terms of how we prepare for a game. While we did some good things against Samoa, we really weren’t ready for when Australia came.

“They had great detail, great knowledge but also brilliant physicality and intensity in how they played as well. We weren’t really ready for that. That was a big learning curve in that game.

“We should be a good bit further down the track than last year, but then again, so are Australia.”

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Murray Kinsella

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