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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 23 January, 2020

Watching the All Blacks struggle last night made POC feel better about 2007

The Ireland squad have been watching more rugby than ever in what is a superb World Cup.

Murray Kinsella reports from Olympic Park

PAUL O’CONNELL AND his Ireland teammates gathered in the team room of their hotel in Canary Wharf last night to watch the mighty All Blacks take on a weakened Georgia team.

As the game wore on and it became increasingly clear that Steve Hansen’s men were not going to wipe the floor with the Georgians, O’Connell began to see one of his own bad memories of playing ‘The Lelos’ in a slightly different light.

Irish forwards including John Hayes, Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan O'Connell and Ireland had a torrid time against Georgia in '07. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I felt better about our performance in 2007 against Georgia after watching the first half!” said O’Connell with a laugh this afternoon after Ireland’s captain’s run in Olympic Park.

Joe Schmidt’s men went through their final team run ahead of their clash with Italy tomorrow at 4.45pm, and O’Connell was still energised by what he’d seen from Georgia the night before.

“I think defence seems to be a big thing for a lot of teams, all the emerging teams,” said O’Connell.

“Everyone can defend really well now and put teams under pressure and force mistakes from them. You look at the linespeed and some of the really good decision-making that Georgia had in defence yesterday.

I know that some of the errors that the All Blacks made were unforced, but certainly a lot of them were forced as well by really hard linespeed and organised defence. It was a brilliant game to watch and I thought Georgia were excellent.”

It would be tempting for Ireland to focus only inwardly, which they have done to an extent at this World Cup, but O’Connell points out that he and his teammates have also engaged with the superb rugby going on elsewhere.

At the age of 35 and with the end of his international career looming, O’Connell is enjoying the experience more than ever.

“I can’t remember a World Cup before where, as a group, we’ve sat around on couches and watched the games,” said O’Connell. “That’s built the excitement for us.

Paul O'Connell O'Connell is enjoying Test rugby more than ever. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Now we’re in the third week of games and definitely there’s a feeling of knock-out rugby for us this week, and obviously it’s opponents we’re really familiar with and they’re really familiar with us as well.”

Indeed, this does feel like a step up for Ireland after what were relatively facile wins over Canada and Romania, with all respect to the determined efforts of those opponents.

Italy have perhaps disappointed against France and Canada so far, but one hopes that they provide a more ferocious test for Ireland, put Schmidt’s men under physical and mental pressure and ask demanding questions of their defence.

I’ve no doubt that we will be battered up front and pushed to the limit,” said O’Connell of tomorrow’s clash. “They’re always incredibly physical games against Italy with the emphasis on the scrum, big emphasis around their defence.

“They have (captain Sergio) Parisse back, who will be a big galvanising force for them. You look what he did with Stade Français last season to win the (Top 14) championship, he’s a real driving force in any team he’s in.

“There’s no doubt that it’s going to be a really tough, physical game. Do we need it? I don’t know if we need it, but we certainly expect it and that’s what we’ve been preparing for.”

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Murray Kinsella

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