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'The icing on the cake': Why pressure is not a problem in Ireland camp

SPOTLIGHT: Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said on Wednesday he is confident his players can handle the pressure of their final World Cup pool match with Scotland this weekend because they have become used to high-stakes games.


O’Connell’s side have won all three of their Pool B matches so far, including an impressive 13-8 victory over champions South Africa.

However, defeat on Saturday to Scotland, which would end a losing run of eight straight Tests against the Ireland, could see them exit the competition.

The Springboks top the table on 15 points with Ireland a point adrift and the Scotland on 10.

O’Connell speaks with authority having appeared at four World Cups, including the 2007 edition also hosted by France when Ireland had a disastrous campaign and bowed out in the pool stage.

This Irish team, though, have looked a far happier bunch under Andy Farrell than the 2007 vintage, and take into the Scottish match a record 16 Test winning run.

“Being able to not rely massively on emotions is a big part of it,” O’Connell replied when asked about the key to consistently backing up wins.


“It’s always a big strength of ours how much the lads love playing for Ireland, how important the history of the team is.

“But that’s kind of the icing on the cake now rather than the whole cake,” the former lock added.

The story continues below…

‘Freakish athlete’

O’Connell said this ability to be solely concentrated on the immediate goal in hand is a legacy of Farrell’s predecessor Joe Schmidt.

“I think probably in fairness it would have come in under Joe [Schmidt] and that ability to focus just on what’s right in front of you and not what’s too far ahead of you,” said O’Connell, who captained Ireland at the 2015 World Cup under New Zealander Schmidt.


“They’ve a big appetite around just getting better and improving, both individually and as a group.

“When the focus is all about getting better, you acknowledge the significance of what might happen if you win a game at the weekend for sure, but you’re kind of able to ignore it a little bit then as well.

“The more you understand who you are and what you stand for the easier it is to perform.”

O’Connell revealed that one fitness concern is injury-plagued centre Robbie Henshaw, who has a “niggle.”

However, such has been the form of midfielders Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose, Henshaw would at best have been a replacement in the team to be named by Farrell on Thursday.

Aki has outshone most of his fellow backs, both in defence and offence, but the 33-year-old centre expects a vibrant Scotland backline to give them more problems than their previous opponents.

New Zealand-born Aki played with several of the Scots on the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour and one in particular, wing Duhan van der Merwe, made quite an impression on him.

“Obviously on the pitch he’s a freakish athlete,” said Aki.

“He can make something out of nothing, he’s quick, he’s strong, the threat that he poses for Scotland is unbelievable.

“And not just him. You’ve got the likes of Darcy [Graham], Finn [Russell] and the rest of their backline, Chris Harris. They’re unbelievable athletes.

“We’ve got our hands full this weekend and they’re going to be a massive threat for us.”

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