Paul O’Connell believes his Ireland side have plenty more to offer head coach Joe Schmidt as they turn into a World Cup year.
The Ireland captain produced a man of the match performance at Aviva Stadium on Saturday night as the men in green withstood a late onslaught from Australia.
The 26-23 victory over Michael Cheika’s Wallabies completed an unbeaten November Guinness Series following wins over South Africa and tier-two Georgia that helped Ireland to third in the world rankings and rounded out a calendar year that brought just one defeat in 10 Tests, a narrow loss to England in February. It has led to heightened public expectation as Ireland prepare to defend their RBS 6 Nations title in the spring and embark on a World Cup campaign in September with a belief that a first semi-final appearance at the least is within their grasp.
Despite the progress made on Schmidt’s watch, O’Connell saw plenty of room for improvement, individually and collectively, this autumn and the veteran lock, just four caps away from a century of Ireland Test appearances, wants to see further advances in 2015.
“I think there was a lot of errors in them and there was a lot of... I was disappointed with the lineout in the last two games. I think calling lineouts would be a big strength of mine and it probably hasn’t been great in the last two games I’ve played in. I’ve probably put the hookers under a bit of pressure,” O’Connell said
“So there’s always stuff to be addressed and I don’t think Joe lets you look beyond what needs to be addressed and he doesn’t let you look beyond getting better at what you’re good at. I don’t think they were amazingly spectacular performances but there was some really good aspects in them. Our defence against two really world class teams who had the ball for long periods (was excellent). We were able to force errors and hold them out, that’s very satisfying.
“The way we were able to address the scrum from South Africa to today and the way (scrum coach Greg Feek) was able to… you can’t spend a lot of time scrummaging because guys have to recover between games and the way Feeky was able to address those things in a few short sessions was excellent as well. I think they’re good performances but there is a lot more in us.”
One aspect of the Irish defence that impressed O’Connell against Australia was their ability to get quickly off the line and harry the Wallabies, either forcing a mistake or halting their momentum, something Ireland failed to do a year ago when they lost in the dying minutes to New Zealand.
“I was happy that our line speed was maintained. We kept our line speed and it’s hard when you’re chasing a try or chasing a score and you know you have to put it between the hands and teams are getting off the line at you.
“That’s probably something we didn’t do against New Zealand, something we didn’t do against France, albeit Dave Kearney probably pressured (Pascal) Papé into that pass. If teams are chasing points and having to put the ball through their hands and you can get off your line and put on pressure you’ve a far better chance of holding them out and I think that’s something we did really well.”
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