Six Nations

Skipper targets England scalp

2015-02-28 17:13
Paul O'Connell (AFP)

Dublin - Ireland captain Paul O'Connell has said on Saturday that a win over England on Sunday in the Six Nations showdown in Dublin would rank among the greatest ever achievements by an Irish team.

The 35-year-old Irish great - who will win his 99th Ireland cap - admitted it would be a tough task for the defending titleholders against an England side he rates as the strongest he has come across in what has been a long and glittering career.

That would include the team captained by Martin Johnson who thrashed the Irish in Dublin in a winners take all Grand Slam clash - O'Connell came on as a replacement that day - and went on to lift the World Cup later that year.

Not only are bragging honours at stake for the winners of a game between the only two sides who have two wins from two but will also maintain the victor's chances of the Grand Slam.

"It (beating England) would be right up there with anything we achieved, beating England is always special for an Irish team," said O'Connell.

"I think this is strongest English team I've come across in my career so it would be right up there."

O'Connell, who recently received another accolade, although from an unlikely quarter, in being voted the man most Irish women would like to spend the night with, praised Stuart Lancaster for blending the team into such a force.

"England have great strength in depth," said the Munster lock.

"They have a great attitude, great mentality, have superb discipline and are well organised.

"Of course they have lots of players to choose from over there. However, their form has not surprised me as I thought they were harshly criticised last autumn.

"They have set the standard for the rest of the competition with their performance in the second-half in Cardiff against Wales," added O'Connell referring to their opponents coming from behind to beat the Welsh in their first game.

O'Connell, who captained the British and Irish Lions in 2009 when they lost to South Africa, said the games with England were unique occasions compared to the other Six Nations matches but he added it was important not to let one's emotions get the better of them.

"Of course you have to keep your emotions in check but you still have to play with passion and emotion," he said.

"We have to be accurate in the way we play on Sunday. Playing for Ireland against England in Dublin is always an emotional occasion."

O'Connell said he believed the Ireland team had grown over the past year and were better at protecting a lead than when they surrendered it against England at Twickenham last year -- which ulitmately cost them the Grand Slam.

"I would hope we wouldn't give an advantage up like we did last year," said O'Connell.

"The France game a fortnight ago we gave them a couple of opportunities late in the game. I think we've got better at keeping a lead since the All Blacks game (in November 2013 when they were within a minute of an historic victory) and the France game last year (though the Irish hung on).

"There is, however, always room for improvement."

England assistant coach Mike Catt said it would be a great test for the relatively raw and inexperienced English players -- backrow forward James Haskell is the oldest at 29 -- against a side packed with British and Irish Lions players.

"Yes, very much so. It's a good opprtunity for (wing) Jack (Nowell) after a year out of the team to come back in. He gives us energy, same with (fullback) (Alex) Goode. But they are playing against some formidable players," said the 43-year-old former England back, a member of the 2003 World Cup winning side.

"They wll be tested but we like to think they're confident enough and in good enough form that they'll be able to combat that."

Read more on:    ireland  |  six nations  |  paul o'connell  |  rugby

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