O'Connell prepared to grind it out
August 12, 2011
O'Connell will start from the bench in Saturday's clash against France © Getty Images
Ireland's Paul O'Connell admits they are ready to play ugly if it is enough for them to win the World Cup.
Attacking the opposition with game-breakers such as Brian O'Driscoll, Tommy Bowe and Gordon D'Arcy has been identified as the best way for the current squad to realise their potential. Frequently over the past year that ambition has not been successfully translated onto the pitch, but when they click they are a capable of challenging any Test team.
O'Connell, however, insists they can play more than one type of game and will need to do so in a pool that also contains Australia, Italy, the United States and Russia. "You have to dog it out sometimes," said the 2009 Lions captain. "If you look at Munster, we may have gotten away from that at times but we got back to it towards the end of the season.
"Leinster have certainly been very dogged in a lot of what they have been doing for the last few years. It's not going to be scintillating rugby for the whole of the World Cup.
"At times we are just going to have to work hard and be mentally strong, pull through and get a result. That's a big part of our make-up as well and something we are very capable of.
"As well as playing the good running rugby and putting teams away, it's the times when we are not playing well and we dig in that will probably define a lot of our tournament. For us it's important to realise being dogged is a big part of winning competitions.
"It's about winning games when you are sometimes not playing well and then, when you are playing well, putting teams away. Hopefully we can strike that right balance."
After the debacle of 2007, when Ireland entered the World Cup in high spirits and with the self-proclaimed intent of winning the tournament only to crash out at the group stage, it is hard to predict how they will fare in New Zealand. On their day they are capable of beating anyone, as this March's thumping victory over Grand Slam-chasing England in their Six Nations finale demonstrates.
But overall they endured a typically fluctuating Six Nations that adds to the difficulty in plotting their form line for the World Cup. Ireland are aware of their shortcomings and O'Connell suggests the solution is to look no further than the next assignment.
"We are in a very good place going into the World Cup," said the 31-year-old. "We know how good we can be, but the Six Nations showed both sides of Ireland.
"We also know how bad we can be when we are not right mentally, physically and that's a good place for us to be. We've been successful in the past when we have just taken one game at a time."
Lessons in how not to prepare for a World Cup came thick and fast in 2007, which will forever represent one of the nadirs of Irish rugby. One crucial change that has been made for New Zealand is the number of warm-up games has been increased to five.
Four years ago fixtures against Scotland, Italy and French club Bayonne left the team undercooked when the World Cup started with many first-choice players having played little rugby. "Warm-up games are absolutely vital. They're excellent for us," said O'Connell. No matter what you do off the pitch it just can't replicate match-fitness.
"You have to play hard to get yourself up to that intensity. If you don't, you may as well not travel to the World Cup because you are not going to be physically right. It's part and parcel of the game but it's vital for our preparation going into the competition."
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