Paul O’Connell is preparing to lead Ireland on their first autumn clean sweep since 2006 by beating Australia today. As well as that, he feels the need to atone for last year’s loss against the Wallabies – a day he calls the “toughest” under the current coach, Joe Schmidt.
It therefore came as a surprise to the Munster man that questions about a move to France – Pau, to be precise – after next year’s World Cup came at him this week.
“I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know where it came from,” said O’Connell. “I suppose it’s the fact that James Coughlan and Simon Mannix are there and I knew them at Munster, but there’s been nothing done on my behalf, and nothing done on Pau’s behalf. I’m contracted until the summer of 2016.”
Ireland were overwhelmed 32-15 by the Wallabies at the Aviva Stadium in November 2013, with O’Connell admitting “they took us apart”.
Ireland have lost just twice under Schmidt since the Kiwi took over for last year’s autumn series. O’Connell criticised Ireland’s lack of mental tenacity in that defeat.
Schmidt had his players whipped into technical shape that night, but O’Connell believes Ireland lacked a mental and physical edge.
The coach has transformed Ireland’s fortunes since taking charge, however, claiming the Six Nations title in his first campaign and moving the side up to third place in the world rankings.
“I think it was our toughest day [under Schmidt],” said O’Connell when reviewing last year’s Australia defeat. “There was a lot of excitement when Joe took over the job. 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 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.
“I think in that game last year we weren’t in the right place – they were just so far ahead of us in that regard.
“That’s when we realised you have to be able to marry the detail, the knowledge of your role, with the big, physical confrontation.”
O’Connell warned his team-mates Australia will not lack fluency despite changing coaches last month from Ewen McKenzie to former Leinster head coach Michael Cheika.
“They seem to have adapted really well,” O’Connell said. “Their French game last week just looked so physical: the line speed of both teams; the way both tackled, the way both competed at the ruck.
“They are a bit further down the track than us, they’ve had their summer series, their Rugby Championship, and have had three games in a row to gel and work together. So they’re in a very good place with how they’ve gelled.”
Ireland: Kearney; Bowe, Henshaw, D’Arcy, Zebo; Sexton, Murray; McGrath, Best, Ross: Toner, O’Connell (capt); O’Mahony, Ruddock, Heaslip. Replacements: Cronin, Kilcoyne, Ah You, Foley, O’Donnell, Reddan, Madigan, Jones.
Australia: Folau; Ashley-Cooper, Kuridrani, Toomua, Speight; Foley, Phipps; Slipper, Fainga’a, Kepu; Carter, Simmons; Jones, Hooper (capt), McCalman. Replacements: Hanson, Robinson, Alexander, Faulkner, Skelton, Horwill, Schatz, Genia, Cooper, Horne, Beale.Reuse content