Paul O’Connell has revealed Joe Schmidt has challenged Ireland to bulk up for next year’s World Cup, admitting “we could be bigger and more physical”.
Talismanic lock O’Connell has spearheaded Ireland’s close-quarters combat for a generation, but still concedes Saturday’s Test opponents South Africa boast an enviable physical profile.
Head coach Schmidt has ordered Ireland’s conditioning team to help the squad beef up ahead of Rugby World Cup 2015.
Captain O’Connell extolled Eben Etzebeth as an aspirational figure for Ireland’s size quest, labelling the hefty Springboks lock “every bit the kind of beast you want in your team”.
“I think you need a big man that is going to stop a maul, work hard at scrums, shift people in rucks,” said O’Connell.
“If that is an enforcer I don’t really know, but it is a physical game and you can’t let teams maul you.
“Scrums are a massive part of the game, in the past they were a big source of penalties, which means territory or points.
“Bakkies Botha has obviously played a huge role for them in the last few years and Etzebeth as well.
“There is no doubt having big athletic men helps you be successful in rugby.
“That is a big part of Joe’s work with (conditioning coach) Jason (Cowman), trying to bring on that part of the Irish squad’s profile.
“I think we’ve some great athletes but I think we could be bigger and more physical.
“If we can add that to the smartness we have shown, the good kicking game we have shown, we have the potential to be an excellent rugby team.
“Etzebeth is every bit the kind of beast you want in your team.”
O’Connell insisted he can stay on the right side of referee Romain Poite at the Aviva Stadium this weekend, despite several previous run-ins with the French official.
Springboks captain Jean de Villiers nudged English referee Wayne Barnes into a Television Match Official (TMO) review that yielded the pivotal last-gasp penalty in South Africa’s 27-25 victory over New Zealand last month.
O’Connell’s former Munster team-mate pushed the boundaries of the time-honoured captaincy challenge of influencing the referee to the limit at Ellis Park.
O’Connell said he will adopt the same disciplined approach in discussions with Poite as he demands from the Ireland team during Test match action.
“It’s important to get a good relationship with the referee but there is only so much you can do,” said O’Connell.
“I think there are some things, one maybe two per game, which you can bring to his attention: any more than that and you’re probably annoying him.
“Our discipline has been one of our biggest strengths under Joe.
“Last autumn I think we had the lowest penalty count, and again at the Six Nations.
“Good discipline is second nature to us. So hopefully I won’t have to chat to Romain a lot.
“I get on well with him despite what people may think. He is a good, fun guy and easy to talk to most of the time.
“I’m sure I have annoyed him a few times, which didn’t help our cause. But you learn from that. But I think in terms of discipline with this team at the moment, you have a lot less to do as captain.”