O'Connell: 'When you make mistakes and give away penalties, it flattens the performance'

“It was a probably a timely reminder of where we needed to be,” says the Ireland skipper.

Rory Keane reports from the Olympic Stadium

PAUL O’CONNELL CUT a relieved figure in this evening’s post-match press conference.

Ireland emerged from an almighty dogfight at the Olympic Stadium to secure a 16 – 9 victory and book their place in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Joe Schmidt’s side face France in a top-of-the-table clash at the Millennium Stadium next Sunday to decide the winners of Pool D with O’Connell fully aware of the improvements needed in Ireland’s game.

Paul O'Connell Ireland captain Paul O'Connell at this evening's post-match press conference Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It was a probably a timely reminder of where we needed to be,” said the Ireland skipper.

“There’s so much quality now for the rest of the competition. When we play France, if we turn over the ball to them, with the forward carriers that they have, and the backs they have, we’ll be in big trouble.

“That’s not something we have done when we’ve won big games. When we performed well in the autumn internationals and the Six Nations, we’ve been very good at denying teams access by our good set-piece and our accuracy with the ball.

“We need to do that again next weekend.”

Ireland simply must improve against les Bleus with their defensive line speed, rucking efficiency and attacking shape all stuttering against the Azzurri.

Against the might of the French, those mistakes simply cannot be repeated.

“I haven’t got a fantastic record against France,” O’Connell admitted.

“To me they’re an incredible side with incredible talent. They have size, physicality and, obviously, great skill and talent. They play with a lot of passion and emotion as well.

“Any Irish team that goes up against a French team, it’s always a massive challenge for us. In recent years, we’ve done well but the games have been really, really tight.

Paul O'Connell and Dave Kearney after the game Dave Kearney and O'Connell applaud the Irish fans after the final whistle Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“For us, we’ve had to produce massive performances to make those games tight. I think we’ve had two draws in the last four years. We’ve managed to win two but they’ve been short, one score games.

“It’s a mountain of challenge. We knew how tough this game was going to be all the time. We were hoping it was going to come down to last round of the pool stages. Hopefully, we can produce the performance that is needed.”

O’Connell and his team-mates delivered an uncharacteristically flat performance against the Italians.

A crackling atmosphere, superb playing surface and a solid build-up looked to have set the scene for Ireland to unleash havoc in east London but what transpired was a nervy and disjointed performance punctuated by unforced errors and sloppy play.

“I think when you make mistakes and give away penalties, it kind of flattens the performance because you can’t get into any rhythm,” O’Connell added.

“You’re back waiting for a kick at goal or you’re retreating to defend a line-out from a kick.

“I think there was considerable excitement about some of the things we wanted to do with the ball. When we got that turnover line-out that we scored off, or that line-out when Johnny made a break, I think we were excited about what we could do with the ball and then just to turn it over, it takes the edge off.

“That’s something we have to deal with as well. If you look at a lot of teams now, the pressure that defences are putting on teams, when there is turnover ball, you have to be able to react and win that ball on the ground and turn it into something you can play with again.

“We probably didn’t do that much today and, because of that, we kind of looked flat at times.”

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