On the Marian Finucane Show on RTE Radio 1 yesterday morning, Marian caught up with an admirably chirpy Paul O’Connell to discuss the twists and turns of an exhilarating Six Nations denouement.
Q: Tell us about getting through the day. Where were you when the first match was on. Were your watching it?
We saw the start of it in our team hotel. Literally just the first few minutes. As we were coming into the ground, the game was on the big screen and we actually saw Italy scoring their try, as our bus was passing the big screen
When I was coming out for my warm-up I saw it on the screen in the tunnel and it was 42-13. And then we heard the score before we went out and we saw the number we had to chase.
Q: When you saw the score, was there any sense of the heart going into the boots?
There was a little bit. But we all have a bit of experience of this from the Heineken Cup or the Champions Cup where you come into the last game and you might need a bonus point and it’s very dangerous to chase the bonus point, you have to win the game first.
Q: What do you mean by that?
If you go out and try and score four tries early on, you can end up with nothing at times. It can take away your focus on winning the game and doing the things to win the game.
Q: Then your own situation. It is a very bizarre situation for a supporter to see 40-10 and be worried…
It was a crazy day really. A crazy day. We played our game. We won 40-10. Literally no one celebrated at the end. We all walked off the pitch and kind of wondered to ourselves would it be enough. In the back of our minds, we were confident it would be enough. You could have never foreseen what was going to happen in the England-France game.
Q: You couldn’t really celebrate what was a fabulous win on your own behalf?
Exactly, we did our media, we showered and changed and we went upstairs and watched the game in a function room. You know, with all the Scottish team around us and all the dignitaries and officials and that. It was a nerve-wracking period. I’ve never really experienced anything like that before. It was great celebrations then when France finally kicked the ball out and we’d won it.
Q: What was that kerfuffle at the end when people were saying will you just get on with it?
You see, they got a penalty on their own line. If France were playing for us, they’d just kick it out. But they weren’t. They wanted to score a try. They wanted to reduce the margin as much as they could. So they took a quick tap and went for it. Then decided against it and kicked it out…
Q: I heard Joe Schmidt saying he was not going to watch. Were you all having your dinner with indigestion watching this?
We had a little bite to eat in the first half and in the second half we kind of sat back to watch it. Some guys couldn’t watch. They went out into reception and just walked around or chatted among themselves. I was sitting with Devon Toner and Rob Kearney and we were glued to it.
Q: Then you had to come all the way back down and out on the pitch again?
I knew there was a bit of a crowd pitchside... but we never imagined one half of the lower tier of the stadium was jam-packed with Irish people.
Q: Presumably you could have gone down to an empty stadium?
Exactly yeah... I don’t think they knew it was going to turn out as well as it did, but that’s the Irish for you. We noticed it on Friday when we went for our Captain’s Run. There was a massive crowd outside the team hotel cheering us onto the bus... there was a massive amount of Irish here. I don’t know what the number was. It might have been 10,000.
There was music blaring. It was like a disco. it was great fun and the guys really enjoyed it. We were asked was it better than last year. It probably was better craic than last year. It was incredible.
We thought it had been lost the way England had been playing.
Q: You had taken a terrible doing yourself the previous week. You were getting the credit for getting people to get their act together and forget about Cardiff.
I dunno why that is. It isn’t the first big game we’ve lost and it certainly won’t be the last. We were disappointed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. You kind of have to let people wallow in that for a little while and get on with it. We had very light training on Monday and we were a little bit flat in training on Tuesday.
But we were conscious that once we got the day off on Wednesday, guys got to switch off a little bit and rest up and sleep, that we’d be good when we came in. And there was great enthusiasm and were in good form.
We did very little on the Captain’s Run on Friday because we wanted to stay fresh. I think the actual intensity of the game in Wales, and how hard the game was in Wales, really stood to us.
Q: One thing struck me, there’s only one Sam Maguire. But how many trophies were there on the go yesterday. Was there one in each venue?
I don’t know. A few replicas floating around. You never know if you’ve the genuine article in your hands or not.
Q: Yesterday winning wasn’t enough… you had to win and win well. It really changed the imaginative approach to the game...
It just goes to show how much psychology plays such a role. Three teams went out yesterday and knew they had to play and knew they had to score points. And on the back of that. they kind of threw caution to the wind at times and it produced some spectacular rugby. I suppose maybe we’re criticised up here in the northern hemisphere for being a bit conservative in our attitude. Maybe yesterday proves them right a little bit. When we do lose the conservatism, the brand of rugby we can play is good.
The weather probably helped as well. It was a beautiful day here in Scotland. It looked to be the same in the Welsh game and the English game. And that’s a big thing as well. When you get into late March and early April, you’re getting into dry pitches and it makes all the difference.
Q: Who were the Scots cheering for?
The overall mood, as you can imagine, in the Scottish room was pro-Irish, very much. I suppose, look, we were there beside them, they kind of had to.
Q: They might have been a little bit resentful of what had just gone on…
I don’t think so. Scotland are in a similar place to where we were three years ago. We had a disappointing performance in Twickenham where we were very well beaten and we just had to rebuild from that. It just shows you can do that really quickly. They have the talent as well. Their back three is very powerful.
Their nine and ten, Finn Russell is a great player. And they have some really big men coming through in their pack… I think they’ve some great talent. They just need to harness it similar to what we’ve done in last few years.
Q: You guys have given us an awful lot of thrills and pleasure. Your bodies take punishment. Was that your young son in your arms at the end of the match?
That was Paddy. He’s been with me in the changing room and that after the last few games. When I look back, they’ll probably be the best memories I’ll have. He’s been in the changing room for Joe Schmidt’s summing-up meetings. He went around all the players and got his jersey signed. Ben Best was beside him, Rory Best’s son, who he’s great friends with. And he sat with Ben Best during the match yesterday. He’s having a great time and I really enjoy having him there.
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