Paul O’Connell cooled talk of a first double over South Africa and Australia since 2006 meaning Ireland are World Cup contenders.
Ireland lock Paul O’Connell cooled talk of a first double over South Africa and Australia since 2006 meaning they are Rugby World Cup contenders next year.
The 35-year-old captain, named man of the match after the thrilling 26-23 victory over the Wallabies, was part of the team that in 2007 went on to lose the Six Nations title on points difference and then experience a nightmare of a World Cup campaign having been considered dark horses for the title.
“We’ve been here before and it didn’t serve us well,” warned O’Connell after beating Australia.
“All we are trying to do is improve game by game. We will go into the Six Nations and try and improve on what we have done in November.
“The previous performances really mean nothing when the Six Nations comes round. I know I sound like a broken record but at the Christmas camp there will be a lot of things to be addressed from these tests.
“There have been a lot of good things but also some things that haven’t gone so well. We have a very narrow focus which is to get better bit by bit.
“There have been periods in games where we have gone backwards and we have addressed those.”
O’Connell, who has also experienced a lot of success with Irish teams including the 2009 Grand Slam, said one of the really positive things about the three match series, which also included a 49-7 thrashing of Georgia, was the lack of mention of retired star Brian O’Driscoll.
“There was maybe too much talk in the lead-up to the South Africa game (a 29-15 victory) about the injured players and the succession to Brian,” said O’Connell.
“It’s great for the centres that there has been no talk this week about Brian O’Driscoll which says a lot about how they have performed (Rob Henshaw and O’Driscoll’s long-time partner Gordon D’Arcy).
“We have moved on and it has allowed us to focus on the game.”
O’Connell, who has also won two European Cups with Munster, said he had been mightily impressed by the manner in which Ireland had held off incessant attacks by the Wallabies in the final 15 minutes.
However, he wouldn’t go as far as to say that it showed they had come on from when they heartbreakingly lost to the All Blacks in the final minute last November having led for all the match.
“I don’t know if this was a game we would have lost 12 months ago,” said O’Connell.
“But to see the quality of the players coming off the Australian bench in the final 20 minutes (scrum-half Will Genia and fly-half Quade Cooper) and for us to defend like we did is a very satisfying step forward.
“The Australians are such a high tempo side and a very intelligent one and they can hit you from anywhere so quickly.”