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England’s challenge will be no cakewalk, stresses Paul O’Connell

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Andy Farrell’s long courtship of Paul O’Connell coincided with Ireland’s last visit to Twickenham two years ago.

as the day ended in a humiliating defeat, Farrell’s determination to add the former Ireland captain to his coaching ticket would hasten, but the marriage would take nearly another year to consummate.

Back then, the former Munster man’s coaching concerns centered on the Minis at Young Munster, his only other concession to professional sport being a part-time pundit.

In that role, he explained on a podcast that England 2020 would beat Ireland by seven points; he was half right. They won at 14.

It’s not clear if he came to the rating after being drafted into the Irish camp by Greenhorns head coach Farrell this week to help his side face one of rugby’s toughest assignments.

Two years on, it’s clear he’s changed his mind, not just because of his own influence, but because of the ambitious progress of an Irish side who will be confident in the front row despite being down two-thirds of their first-row pick and a stuttering England in eight days to beat.

“Of course we’ve improved since then. The players have had a lot of experience under Andy Farrell and in terms of how we play and how we run our business,” says O’Connell.

“Sometimes we were really good at it, sometimes we were really bad at it. And when we were poor, we gave teams access to games and we fought. Now in Twickenham it’s the same challenge again.

“Can we be calm and accurate under the pressure of a really good side who can be very physical with you but also be really clever in how they try to get you to play? We took some bad hits there, but we also had some great days there.

“They are so physical and so well trained. They play a really smart tactical kicking game where they can kick long, but their short kicks are really good too. They just keep pressuring you and trying to keep you in your own half.

“You have to master that. Hopefully we’re in a better position than we were two years ago to handle it if the players understand how they want to defend and attack.”

That understanding has faltered lately as difficulties in their own ruck-ball against Italy – they’ve been penalized five times for a variety of offenses – compounded flaws exposed by a much stronger and more competent French meltdown.

With this Irish team now facing more scrutiny than they did in 2020, O’Connell’s own efforts will also come under scrutiny here.

“There’s nothing in it,” O’Connell says, which may not be as reassuring as it might seem.

“I mean, looking at it, it had nothing to do with missing numbers on the glitch. It was a variety of different things. Italy is very good at it, Ivan Nemer; Michele Lamaro was after one of them.

“One of the things we need to do better is our ball placement when we’re under attack. We need to be a little bit stronger in what we’re doing on the ground and that’s a challenge.

“You can blame the referee or complain about the referee or take it into your own hands.

“Sometimes we did it really well but every time we didn’t do it well we were punished and I think that challenge will be even greater against England.”

After Andrew Porter was ruled out of the Six Nations yesterday along with Rónan Kelleher from the front row through injury, O’Connell expressed his confidence in Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne to fill the gap.

“Cian has great experience and Dave is in great form, both played against England last year.”

The psychological challenges of a trip to the cabbage field are also diverse; O’Connell is referring to a walk through the parking lot where locals have their picnics.

It might seem odd to imagine Paddy being intimidated by tweed-wearing fans with pickles and knives sprinkled with mustard, but the imposing venue can have an aura, especially for a team whose firsts Exposure to a hostile away venue since 2020 ended in defeat last month. And also because, contrary to the existing evidence, O’Connell somehow believes a major accomplishment comes from Eddie Jones’ mysteriously disorganized outfit.

With more than a reference a minute about their kicking game – usually England intervene first – the battle lines have been drawn.

“England have played the game a certain way in recent years,” he says. “Even if you look back at the last World Cup, they have very clever tactical kicking, they have real power in their carry and forward runners and when they pass you it’s very difficult.

“It’s a challenge for us that we’ve had in the past and it will be interesting to see how we do it.”

O’Connell will hope his presence in the coaching box rather than on an expert’s platform can make all the difference.

https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/six-nations/england-challenge-will-be-no-picnic-insists-paul-oconnell-41409576.html England’s challenge will be no cakewalk, stresses Paul O’Connell

Fry Electronics Team

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