SportRugby

O'Connell ready for date with destiny in Wales

RugbyBy Kevin Palmer
Paul O'Connell training at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium
Paul O'Connell training at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell has insisted the occasion of his 100th international cap will not distract him from the bigger picture as he attempts to take his side a step closer to Grand Slam glory in Wales on Saturday.

Ireland can set a new national record with an 11th consecutive Test victory this weekend, and move within touching distance of a first Grand Slam since 2009.

O'Connell believes Wales will pose a bigger threat than England offered in Ireland's 19-9 Dublin victory of March 1, so will fall back on boss Joe Schmidt's now well-versed routine of shutting out the weekend's wider context.

"It's very hard to keep winning: if you focus on a match-winning record or you focus on a championship, then you get distracted from what you need to do," said O'Connell.

"When we jog out onto the pitch tomorrow, it's either going to be their kick-off or our kick-off and you'll have a job to do.

"And you just keep trying to repeat all those little jobs, trying to win as many of those little moments as you can, and that's all you can do.

"I enjoy that way of preparing, I know Joe prepares all his teams like that, but it's probably something I've only stumbled on in recent times, but it does avoid you getting distracted and it does avoid you suffering from maybe the pressure of the bigger picture.

"While the England game was a great result I think there were a lot of things we would like to improve on.

"I think England are a great side but I don't think they played well against us and of all the teams Wales, later in the championship, playing at home in the Millennium Stadium - we're going to come across a great side tomorrow that are probably going to play great as well.

"That's going to be a bigger challenge I think than England, given the performance they produced two weeks ago."

O'Connell's Ireland peers have hailed the talisman Munster lock as better now than at any point in his career, despite his advancing years.

The tight-five enforcer will equal Mick Galwey's record as Ireland's oldest captain at exactly 35 years and 145 days this weekend.

O'Connell admitted experience has helped him hone his approach, but conceded his sheer will to win has kept him in the sport.

"I'm very competitive, that would be my biggest strength," said O'Connell. "I certainly can't run over people or unlock defences with my footwork, or whatever, but I'm certainly very competitive.

"I enjoy being part of a team and helping drive teams on, trying to make them successful and trying to get the best out of people. I've always enjoyed a leadership role whether I've been captain or not.

"It's part of my personality that's featured in my rugby for most of my career.

"And that probably has helped sustain my career, it's never been a chore for me.