FRUSTRATING AND CONSISTENCY – the two words that litter Paul O’Connell’s chat with TheScore.ie about injury troubles and Ireland’s recent form.
Having just arrived from a photo session out on the grounds of Carton House, the second-row takes a seat in his Ireland kit and swipes rain drops from his knees – autumn is here and international rugby is never far behind.
The bulk of the Irish squad that assembled for the two-day training camp in Kildare had already met at the Aviva Stadium in August to run through the highlights, and lowlights, of the three-match tour to New Zealand.
The focus of this September camp, O’Connell explained, was ensuring that Ireland are not caught cold by two opponents that will have been together for more than three months when the Guinness Series kicks off on 10 November. He said:
In the past we have finished the summer tour and not met up for the autumn internationals until two weeks before. You look at the teams we will be playing (Argentina and South Africa) and they will have played six times.
“We’ve met up for two days now and it is about making sure we are comfortable with each other and reaching the standards we are capable of meeting.”
The standards that O’Connell speaks of were also touched on by Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll during the camp when he declared that Ireland were capable of beating any side ‘on our day’.
Those days were few and far between in the 2011/12 season as the Irish finished with a win-loss record of 6-10, as well as a 17-17 draw against France in Paris.
O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and Jonny Sexton advance on a flaming ball to mark the launch of public ticket sales for the Guinness Series. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
O’Connell feels that, by getting the top Irish players together more often, they can build up a club mentality when they reconvene late October. He told TheScore.ie:
We all come into camp with the fullest of intentions of training well and playing well but it is only when you stand back and have a look … I suppose if you look back to last year’s Six Nations and that first game against Wales, we probably didn’t perform to the levels we needed to.
“But two or three weeks into it, the time we were playing France away, we were playing some really good rugby.
“With that game getting called off we had another couple of weeks together and, at that stage, even though you were playing for Ireland it was like a club team.”
The obvious flaw in O’Connell’s reasoning comes from the 30-9 mauling Ireland received at the end of their seven weeks together last spring.
The lock missed that defeat after picking up a knock in France. A serious knee injury ruled him out of the tour to New Zealand and he may only be back in competitive action by mid-October.
“Hopefully doing a bit of contact this week in training,” he said. “We’ll see how that goes.
“Based on that, hopefully, I should be back soon. I don’t want to put any dates on it. I’ve been doing that for a few weeks and it gets frustrating. Hopefully it is sooner rather than later.” O’Connell added:
It has been a frustrating time but I suppose, with last season, I was rushing to get back for the Ulster game (Heineken Cup 1/4 final) and trying to get back for the tour. I just probably needed to let the knee rest and make sure it was right.
“It was a lot slower than we would have hoped but I’ve done a lot of rehab on it now so it should be in good shape.”
O’Connell’s place in the Irish second row, alongside Donnacha Ryan, seems assured for the Tests against the Springboks and Pumas. He says selection matters are Declan Kidney’s remit and the players must focus on the ‘consistency issue’.
He also rejects the idea that Ireland have regressed since they won the Grand Slam in 2009. He commented:
I think individually, as players, we have improved massively but everyone else has as well. It’s a very competitive environment. Unfortunately, we’ve left some very close games behind us in recent months. It’s probably given us, you know, not the greatest record.
“You look at the loss to New Zealand in the Second Test, the loss to Wales in the Six Nations this year, not closing out the game against France. If those results had gone a different way, it could have been a different season.”
Irish supporters will hope that winning ways will start against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina otherwise the consistency of Ireland’s ‘consistency’ claims will quickly becoming frustrating.