Joe Schmidt has admitted he cannot fathom the debt Ireland owe lock Paul O’Connell for continuing to clatter his body through Test skirmishes.
Ireland’s head coach hailed 35-year-old lock O’Connell’s cavalry-charge performance in Saturday’s 29-15 victory over the Springboks in Dublin.
Kiwi boss Schmidt, at a loss to encapsulate his depth of admiration for O’Connell, settled on Maori term ’mana’ – and there can be few higher honours a New Zealander bestows on a foreigner.
With no one set translation, ’mana’ can mean a force of nature, but comes into common Kiwi parlance to describe a person of great prestige and character.
“He has an incredible amount of respect: a word that sums him up is that he’s just got ’mana’,” said Schmidt.
“He’s a guy who does not know how to give up, he prides himself on being as well prepared as he can be and he has massive respect within the group because of how he delivers.
“When he’s done, he delivers again.
“Not many guys have the mental capacity that Paul O’Connell has.
“There are a lot of guys who physically get into good shape, but he’s one of the most mentally tough players I’ve been involved with.”
O’Connell and Springboks talisman Victor Matfield spent the week’s build-up trading compliments before conniving to get the better of each other at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland and O’Connell subdued South Africa’s maul just enough to prove pivotal to victory, with Rhys Ruddock and Tommy Bowe’s tries backed up by Johnny Sexton’s 16 points with the boot.
Matfield may have edged the lineout battle, but Ireland boss Schmidt underscored his decision to select O’Connell as his captain by praising his enduring tenacity.
“Again, I’m sure other people have managed to do it, it’s just for us he’s probably a line in the sand,” said Schmidt.
“He just makes sure he delivers every time.
“I’m not sure myself how he does it, because I think I’d be crumpled and that would be at the start of the game.
“He just keeps going right through the game, that’s why he has so much respect and that’s why he’s a genuine captain who leads by example.”
Neither Schmidt nor O’Connell shied away from Ireland’s desire for a southern hemisphere scalp this autumn, to tee up the long grind towards Rugby World Cup 2015.
Ireland face Georgia in Dublin on Sunday before closing their autumn series by entertaining Australia.
Former Leinster and Clermont coach Schmidt admitted Saturday’s triumph against the world’s second-ranked team has set a new standard.
“It’s probably a benchmark result for us,” he said.
“We are performance driven and I think our performance at times was superhuman; the amount of times guys had to get up and make repeated tackles against such big strong carriers.
“At the same time I think next week could be entirely different.
“It’s hard to say one Test will influence another.
“I think if you look back four weeks ago, South Africa were superb against the All Blacks.
“Past performance guarantees nothing in the future and I think all Test players understand that.
“The only thing that guarantees performance is the best preparation you can put yourself through and then hopefully that performance will be good enough to get the result.”