Six Nations 2014: 'Embarrassed' Paul O'Connell back for Ireland after infection

 

Paul O'Connell, the Ireland captain, has admitted he was embarrassed by his last-minute withdrawal from the Six Nations opener against Scotland last weekend with a chest infection.

He had to pull out of the match in Dublin just hours before kick-off but even in his absence Ireland had enough to beat Scotland convincingly, 28-6. He is in the starting line-up to face Wales on Saturday, also in Dublin, having returned to training, but admitted he had had to put up with some ribbing over his withdrawal last week.

"I've just got a little bit of a cough left, that's all," he said. "It's a bit embarrassing really; I've copped plenty of slagging from the old-school players I've played with for years.

"I've just finished a course of antibiotics. I've played matches on them before, so I don't struggle with it at all."

Joe Schmidt, the Ireland head coach, is hoping for no further last-minute dramas with his captain this weekend. "If we get through Saturday morning with him he'll be fit and ready to go," Schmidt said. "He trained fully on Thursday and I'm confident there will be no late changes this time around. As soon as I saw the name on my phone on Sunday I knew something was up. The doctor doesn't ring at eight in the morning to ask if I want to go for a coffee."

Schmidt has made two changes to the line-up that saw off Scotland. Dan Tuohy drops to the bench to accommodate O'Connell, while Gordon D'Arcy replaces Luke Marshall at centre.

Much of the build-up has focused on Brian O'Driscoll, the Ireland centre, and Warren Gatland, the Wales coach. O'Driscoll was controversially dropped by Gatland when the coach was in charge of the British & Irish Lions on the tour of Australia last summer. And given the lingering ill feeling over the perceived slight to O'Driscoll – even though the Lions went on to win the game and the series – the Wales team are likely to face a warm reception at the Aviva Stadium.

But Rob Howley, the assistant coach, does not expect the Wales players to be affected. "The experiences the players have had with Wales and the Lions in big matches means they can deal with intensity and hype and the media," he said. "Experienced players become automated, having been there and done it. Gats has been no different this week to any other, experienced and astute, talking to players he feels he needs to speak to and making sure our environment is ready for the players to be the best they can be on Saturday afternoon."

Howley added: "Ireland will be buoyed by their performance against Scotland, and we were frustrated and disappointed by our second half in particular against Italy [despite winning 23-15]. We need to get back onto the front foot. There are technical elements we need to improve on. The Ireland game is always pivotal, and it has been close in the last few years – 2-2 in the last four meetings. It is high-octane."

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