By Grainne McGuinness and Shaun Cronin
Captain Paul O’Connell believes that Ireland’s win at the weekend was due not only to having depth in the squad, but also all members of the squad knowing their roles.
Many believed South Africa would be too strong for an Ireland team weakened by extensive injuries, but O’Connell led his side in a defensive masterclass that earned them a 29-15 victory.
Speaking after the game, he was asked about squad depth and described it as having built up over several years.
“It’s great. I think it’s one of the things that’s probably been building over the last few years,” said O’Connell.
“At the Six Nations two years ago a lot of players were blooded because of injuries.”
He continued: “It’s an excellent place to be, with not just excellent players coming in, but players with knowledge inside-out of their role.”
He cited the specific example of Munster team-mate Tommy O’Donnell.
O’Donnell was not initially part of the matchday 23, but when Rhys Ruddock was promoted to the starting 15 instead of Chris Henry O’Donnell replaced him on the bench.
The back-row ended up playing the crucial final ten minutes when Ireland were closing out the game after replacing Peter O’Mahony.
“You’ve guys like Tommy O’Donnell,” O’Connell said. “Guys who were outside the 23 (that morning) and then he’s into it and he knows his role inside out.”
“That clarity, not just from 1 to 23, but probably from 1 to 35 or 36 gives you great confidence I think.”
O’Connell was also adamant that the squad wouldn’t lose motivation when facing weaker opposition next week, as the aim for them was always improving their own game.
“We focus on ourselves a lot,” he explained. “The reviews are tough, no doubt about it, but guys enjoy them, and enjoy trying to make marginal improvements and marginal gains from week to week.”
“So that’s what this week will be all about, trying to improve a lot of the little things we got wrong this weekend.”