PAUL O’CONNELL IS targeting his fourth win in five visits to Twickenham as Ireland stand on the brink of a Triple Crown. The Irish captain has lost only once to England away from home but many of his teammates cannot boast a similarly impressive record.
Ireland have set themselves up for a tilt at the Triple Crown and, by extension, the Six Nations title after comfortably seeing off Scotland and Wales at home. Joe Schmidt’s men were clinical and aggressive for 80 minutes in their 26-3 win over Warren Gatland’s men. They next face Stuart Lancaster’s England, a side that have beaten them in their last three outings and who overpowered Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
“A win in Twickenham is massive, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it before,” said O’Connell. “Particularly at the moment. England will be disappointed with the French game but, as Joe [Schmidt] said, they dominated long parts of that game. To go to Paris and go two tries to nil down but come back and be five points ahead is impressive. They’ll be disappointed with the finish.
“They are an incredibly physical side. I worked with [England forwards coach] Andy Farrell in the summer, on the Lions Tour. They have brilliant line speed and really do put teams under pressure and force them to make mistakes. I think they are growing in confidence all the time. It’s going to be incredibly difficult for us.” O’Connell added:
When we saw the fixture list, even though the second game was against the champions of the competition, always in the back of our mind would have been thinking we would be in a very good place if we were two from two. I think the competition now gets a whole lot harder when you go to Twickenham. It’s going to be a big step up.”
The 35-year-old delivered perhaps the greatest ever 54-minute performance in an Irish jersey on Saturday. In less than an hour on the Aviva Stadium field, the Ireland captain led from the front at lineout, maul and breakdown.
He charged headlong into swathes of Welsh jerseys on three occasions and always knocked his tacklers back. He delivered a huge hit on Wales’ tackle machine Dan Lydiate on four minutes to rouse the home support. It was Roy Keane on Marc Overmars in 2001 but it was legal.
Paul O’Connell in relaxed form at Ireland’s post-match briefing. INPHO/Colm O’Neill
The captain, who missed Ireland’s victory over Scotland last week with a chest infection, was Ireland’s third highest tackler. In his 54 minutes on the pitch he landed 10 hits, just behind Jamie Heaslip and Chris Henry who both saw out the match. He also won four lineout throws and stole a Richie Hibbard dart. The huge applause that met his early substitution matched the effort the captain had exerted for the cause. O’Connell commented:
I was struggling a little bit. I was still a bit sick but, you know, disappointed to come off. I was struggling a little; had my head in my hands a few times and [was] bent over a few times. That’s just not acceptable.”
The lock was replaced by Dan Tuohy who fractured his arm in the first play he was involved in. Tommy O’Donnell replaced Tuohy and fellow flanker Peter O’Mahony moved into the second row.
Despite a couple of sneezes in the post-match briefing, O’Connell looked in good shape for a man who only finished up a heavy dose of antibiotics two days before the match. “It’s great to have two home wins, two games into the championship The margin of victory in both games is fantastic. One of the big things Joe talked about was the amount of one-score games there were in last year’s championship and how little bits of inaccuracy can put you the right side, or wrong side, of those games. We’ve been focusing on that a lot so the margins that we have won by are brilliant.”
Ireland’s 26-3 win can not be fully reported on without mention of the driving mauls that Wales simply could not handle. “With the conditions,” O’Connell explained, “the maul was always going to play a big part in the game. Once we got a lead it became a very potent weapon for us. As the ball got wetter and wetter it was a great weapon; to hold onto the ball and put a team under pressure.
“All the provinces maul very well and [when] you come into camp there’s a good mixture of ideas. You add that to John Plumtree’s and Anthony [Foley] would have a few ideas when he was here with the Wolfhounds. Lineout-wise, we have four excellent jumpers and we’re able to concentrate on quite a small menu as Wales generally don’t give you a lot of lineouts. It focuses the mind a little bit.”
English minds will be focused on stopping the devastating Irish maul in Twickenham. If they fail to blunt Ireland’s new weapon O’Connell may well leave with victory number four and his fifth Triple Crown.
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