Captain Paul O'Connell during the pre-match press conference today at BT Murrayfield Stadium. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Paul O’Connell has warned Ireland to beware of Scotland’s “nothing to lose” approach in battling against the Wooden Spoon in Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations finale.
Captain O’Connell expects Scotland to start at “100 miles an hour” in the Murrayfield clash, where Ireland can still retain their Six Nations title.
The Munster lock admitted Ireland adopted a no-fear mentality in denying England a Grand Slam in Dublin in 2011, at the end of a disappointing campaign.
Ireland were bidding to avoid their third defeat of the 2011 tournament and pulled off a stunning 24-8 victory, stopping England in their tracks.
O’Connell believes Ireland must be ready for winless Scotland to adopt the same approach this weekend.
“I think we’ve all been there: I remember being in the Aviva Stadium in 2011 when England were coming over to try to win a championship and we had struggled,” said O’Connell.
“We’d struggled for form and we used that game as a massive spark for us, we saw it as a great opportunity.
“We weren’t really playing for anything; we had nothing to lose, so we started at 100 miles an hour and didn’t slow down.
“So that’s why the preparation hasn’t changed.”
Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney pictured today during their captain's run at BT Murrayfield Stadium. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Veteran lock O’Connell – poised to become Ireland’s oldest captain of all time in Edinburgh – admitted it will be “dangerous” for Joe Schmidt’s side to let minds wander to the equation required to claim the Six Nations title.
Ireland will most likely require a points difference supremacy over England and Wales to claim the silverware, but their challenge will not be completely clear at kick-off.
Wales face Italy in Rome to start the day, and Ireland will know that result before taking on Scotland.
Head coach Schmidt has admitted he will have one eye on events in Rome, but O’Connell is determined to shut out all extraneous thoughts in Scotland.
England host France in the final clash of the day, starting the final round as favourites for the title thanks to their later start and as they lead the current points difference tally by four points.
“It’s like the Heineken Cup or Champions Cup where it’s a dangerous place to go to start thinking about anything but winning the game,” said O’Connell.
“You’ll have a plan going into the game of how to beat a team and you’ll try to execute that as well as you can.
“That’s all we’ve spoken about and that’s all we’ve addressed.
“I’m sure things will happen throughout the day but our big focus is the start of the game, starting the game well, starting in disciplined fashion and getting ourselves off on the right foot.
“That’s the same as if we were coming over here to win by one point.
“That’s all you can do, and whatever happens, happens.
“I won’t be paying much attention to it all, and I certainly hope we won’t be paying too much attention to it.
“Any other year we’d be trying to win the game first and foremost: and that will be the same case tomorrow.”
O’Connell expressed his shock that Scotland have hit the doldrums despite the influence of new coach Vern Cotter, with the 35-year-old expecting the Kiwi boss’ exemplary record at Clermont to have had faster impact.
Ireland’s fourth 100-cap star admitted emulating the 1949 team in retaining the championship title would prove a career highlight – but refused to give it much thought.
“I am very surprised: I’ve played against teams coached by Vern Cotter for a few years and they are excellent sides,” said O’Connell.
“I don’t think they’ve been well-beaten in any of their games, they’ve been very unlucky not to get some results. No team has pulled away from them, every game has been tight, and it was the same when we played them last year.
“We’ve a lot of respect for them, especially as the spine of their team is from the Glasgow side that have been doing extremely well."
“I’d love to be in a championship winning team, there have been plenty of close calls throughout my career," he added. “Particularly under Eddie when it looked like we were never going to get there at times. It’s massive obstacle tomorrow, I know where Scotland will be mentally.
“So it’s a massive challenge – but talk about championships is not on my mind at the moment.”
Breakingnews.ie sports reporter Shaun Cronin spoke to Irish
Examiner rugby correspondent Simon Lewis about the upcoming match.