Irish better be sharp - O'Connell

2014-11-08 09:34
Paul O'Connell (File)

Dublin - Six Nations champions Ireland must be mentally up for the challenge they face against an in-form South Africa side on Saturday otherwise they face a tough day at the office, said Irish captain Paul O'Connell.

The 35-year-old lock - with the retirement of iconic centre Brian O'Driscoll one of the last of the Irish golden generation which won the 2009 Six Nations Grand Slam to still be playing at this level, admitted with a plethora of injuries to key players the preparation had not been the smoothest.

"It's a similar time to when we played Australia last year," O'Connell told reporters on Friday.

"You come in and work with Joe (Schmidt the Ireland coach) and it's very different from anything you do in your provinces.

"In that game we knew what we wanted to do, but we probably didn't have the correct mental attitude to execute it (they lost 32-15).

"If we don't have that tomorrow against South Africa it will be a very tough day for us.

"They base so much of what they do on physicality and intensity, and we need to be able to match that, we've got to be able to find that in our game having not played since the middle of June.

"We've got to be able to start as though we've played six or seven games in a row together."

O'Connell, who captained the British and Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa in 2009, said he believed the Springboks were a much more intimidating team to previous ones as they had a more all round game under coach Heyneke Meyer.

That was seen to devastating effect in the recent Rugby Championship where they ended world champions the All Blacks' 22 Test unbeaten run, beating them 27-25.

"The way they've been playing with ball in hand recently, I just think they've an extra string to their bow that they maybe didn't have when they won the World Cup, or they didn't maybe use then or in 2009 (the Lions tour)," he said.

"So it makes the challenge even bigger again."

However, O'Connell - who toyed with the idea of being a swimmer rather than taking up rugby as a schoolboy - said that the Irish too had become a different proposition since New Zealander Schmidt took over at the helm after Declan Kidney was sacked following the 2013 Six Nations.

"Joe is very clear on what he wants from all the players when you go out on the pitch," said O'Connell.

"That's been very enjoyable for a lot of the players to know that if you know your role we've a good chance of playing well.

"Tactically he's a very clever guy, he comes up with things that can unlock defences, so it's a question of you going out on the pitch then and being accurate and executing it.

"That's been the most satisfying part of it for me," added O'Connell.

O'Connell, who also won two European Cups with Munster, said he was touched fellow lock and Springbok veteran Victor Matfield had remarked he was the best second row forward in the world but felt perhaps the tag should be applied to the 37-year-old South African instead.

"I think he's the best lineout forward in the world and has been for a long time," said O'Connell.

"To be able to take two years out (he retired after the 2011 World Cup before returning in 2013), come back and be as good as if not better than he ever was is an incredible achievement.

"He has a fantastic record as well, having beaten us on the Lions tour, having won a World Cup (2007), his record in the Super 15, he's a fantastic player.

"I was delighted with the compliment, but it's all irrelevant come Saturday afternoon."

Read more on:    ireland  |  springboks  |  paul o'connell  |  rugby

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