PAUL O’CONNELL ALLOWS a smiling wince escape before the question is anywhere near its end.
The query is loaded with a scenario that would make for the most unbearable nail-biting finish in Paris.
’77th minute: England have the points margin they need, you trail France by a point. What do you call if Ireland win a kickable penalty?”
“I would say we would kick it to the corner to win the Championship.”
It’s an important clarification to get out of the way, because there is a sense this weekend that Ireland are fighting two battles; one with the side put on the field by Philippe Saint Andre, another against the weight of history.
He won’t admit it, but O’Connell has been over the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and knows that claiming a win in Paris is not the ultimate goal, winning the Six Nations title is. Just as well, then, that the most likely scenario will intertwine the two.
The rallying cry at Carton House this week is that the opportunity to win a Championship does not come around very often, and O’Connell admitted “disappointment” that it’s a full five years since Ireland have worked their way into such a position.
“We would have loved to have kicked on after 2009 but it didn’t happen. That’s just life. It’s in the past, now we just move forward. There is an excellent squad of players there, an excellent coaching staff and real potential. You just have to move forward.”
2009 also represents the last time Ireland managed to beat France, but of course that victory came on home turf in Croke Park rather than the City of Lights. To truly move forward, this team must taste victory over Les Bleus.
O’Connell’s overriding memory of losing in Paris features an early blue blitz and no way back for a stunned Ireland. With the French pack coming under heavy fire this week the second row is braced for a fierce level of intensity again, but he also points out the more recent history when it has been Ireland who set the run target and France who chased.
“Two years ago (when the lock was also captain) we get off to a great start, scored two good tries, but they have such good talent that they can reel you back in, they can score from anywhere.”
“Taking a lead and seeing it out is the same as trying to get a lead at the start of the game. It is about doing all the simple things well and not giving the other team a look in.”
He added: “Joe is very process driven. When we call a play, it doesn’t matter whether it’s to get us into their half of the pitch or whether it’s trying to break them down, it’s about doing that single play.
“Your job at the start of the play – be it scrum, line-out, first ruck, second ruck, whatever it is – it’s about doing that play as aggressively as you can with as much detail as being in the right place. It probably doesn’t really matter what part of the game it is.”
If luck smiles on Ireland and all the ‘simple things’ are completed, then O’Connell may not need to stray from the blueprint to get what he wants in Paris.