O’Connell taking little for granted


Published: Sunday 23rd November 2014 by The News Editor

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Ireland’s first autumn Test series clean sweep for eight years is not sure to be a precursor to success at Rugby World Cup 2015, according to captain Paul O’Connell.

Joe Schmidt’s men closed out three-straight wins thanks to tries from Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe, and Johnny Sexton’s 16 points in an edgy 26-23 victory over Australia.

Nick Phipps crossed twice and Bernard Foley claimed a third score for the Wallabies, but Ireland held firm despite a relentless late onslaught in Dublin on Saturday.

Ireland swept the board in November 2006, beating South Africa, Australia and the Pacific Islands, only to slip out of the World Cup in France a year later at the group stages.

Veteran lock O’Connell still harbours the mental scars of the big build-up to 2007 that led only to huge underachievement, quickly warning against any repeat.

“One of the things we know is that we’ve been here before with a good autumn, and it didn’t serve us well; so that’s the lesson you learn,” said O’Connell.

“You have to reassess when you come back in for the Six Nations.

“We’ve been eager to improve game by game, so when we come in for the Six Nations there’ll be a short review of the autumn and we’ll try to improve on that.

“Your previous performance really means nothing when the Six Nations comes around; we would have been aware of that back then as well.

“I sound like a broken record but I know exactly what will happen when we come in for the Christmas camp and the Six Nations camp.

“There will be a lot of things addressed that need to be from these three games, and there will be a big emphasis put on learning from that and trying to improve those areas.

“I think it works really well when you have that narrow focus on just trying to get better bit by bit.

“It’s worked most of the time for us, there have been days when we’ve gone backwards certainly, and probably periods in games where we’ve gone backwards, no different from today.

“But I think that’s the way that the coaching staff will address it.”

Head coach Schmidt gritted his teeth through suspected appendicitis to guide Ireland to their seventh consecutive victory, before heading off for medical attention quickly after the final whistle.

Ireland skipper O’Connell was relieved to atone for last autumn’s 32-15 defeat to Australia, that had the Munster stalwart bemoaning his side’s lack of physical and mental fire at the time.

Schmidt’s side lost out cruelly 24-22 to the All Blacks last November when New Zealand stole victory in time added on.

This year there were no last-ditch capitulations, but despite the clear mental improvement, O’Connell attempted to downplay the clear progress.

Ireland were ninth in the world rankings when Schmidt was announced as the new boss in April 2013; now they sit third, cementing their status with this Australia victory.

“I don’t know if it’s a game we would have lost 12 months ago, but we were certainly happy with the way we finished,” said O’Connell.

“We haven’t finished games well at points, so to see the quality they brought off the bench, for us to be able to defend the way we did and not give them any easy outs was very satisfying.”

Former Leinster coach Michael Cheika admitted he was disappointed to lose on his return to Irish soil, but quickly recalibrated for Australia’s Twickenham clash with England next weekend.

The Wallabies compounded their 29-26 defeat to France with another three-point loss in Dublin. Despite two strength-sapping encounters Cheika refused to ease off on his taskmaster style with his squad.

“We go again; you’re not tired when you’re playing for Australia,” said Cheika.

“We’ll recover and mourn the loss because it was difficult, but we’ll bounce back on Monday and do our best at Twickenham.

“I’m very disappointed, it was different from last week where I think we got close but we would have been lucky to win.

“This week we got close and we were unlucky not to win to be honest.

“All in all I thought it was a really improved performance from last weekend and I thought we were unlucky not to get the result.”

Published: Sunday 23rd November 2014 by The News Editor

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