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RBS 6 Nations: Ireland must get physical to beat England, says Paul O'Connell

By Niall Crozier

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell today leads his side into the cauldron that is Twickenham in the knowledge that the margins in games against England tend to be pretty slender.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he expects another tight, hugely physical battle this afternoon.

"Whenever we have won there they have been incredibly tight games," the big Munster man said.

"If memory serves me I remember Shane Horgan scoring late to win one game and Tommy Bowe scoring late to win another game.

"It doesn't matter what England team you play, it is always incredibly physical all across the pitch – up front and in the backs."

There is no escaping the fact that football at this level is ruthlessly hard and totally uncompromising. Those who fail to front up have no chance.

"Certainly, in international rugby, physicality and intensity is a massive part of the game," O'Connell stressed.

"I mean, you look at the England team from 1 to 15 – they are incredibly big, incredibly athletic. They are very fit.

"Physicality is a big part of everything they do. If you want to beat that, you need to be able to match it.

"That aggression and physicality is such a big part of rugby, particularly in the pack and particularly in the front five."

That's telling it like it is.

With an 11th Triple Crown the prize should his side win, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has prepared his troops to play in a manner designed to out-fox these physically imposing hosts.

O'Connell acknowledged that having had home advantage against Scotland and Wales, this will be the biggest test Ireland have faced thus far in the series.

It is Schmidt's sixth game in charge since taking over from Declan Kidney and it is his first away day.

His captain hinted that Ireland's tactics may just include a surprise or two to complement those things that have served them well to date.

"You always have to do something different. You can't do exactly what a team is expecting because the way teams prepare they'll be ready for you," O'Connell said.

"A lot of the simple things we did against Wales, if we're to win we'll have to do them again.

"You need to kick well, you need to find space whether you run it there or kick it there. And you need to be extremely physical.

"Probably, I think, there was a big difference between the Wales team we beat last weekend and the Wales team that beat England at the end of last year's Six Nations. That's something that Joe has been eager to point out to the lads – that physically and tactically this is going to be a massive step up from anything we have played yet under Joe."

Pointing to areas where Ireland must improve today, O'Connell warned: "I think we have been over-rated as to how effective our first-up tackle has been. It is short of our view of where it should be."

Itemising the threat England pose he said: "I think with the likes of Tom Wood, Billy Vunipola, Dylan Hartley carrying and with Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees carrying through the midfield and then, from the back, Jack Nowell has done incredibly well – he is a player who has very slippy breaks in the tackle – Johnny May has got good footwork and Mike Brown has probably been the player of the series so far.

"So certainly, defensively we are going to have be very very accurate in our first tackle, and I think with the ball we are going to have to be well resourced at ruck time because they are very very good at muddying the tackle.

"They pick and choose their rucks very well, they don't overload, they have got a lot of guys on their feet to defend.

"But when they sniff a chance, they are very destructive at the ruck and they pour numbers through, dynamic physical men, the like of Lawes and Hartley.

"Launchbury is very good on the ball, to grab it in the first place, and guys like Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw make it difficult to maintain tempo and continuity if that ruck ball isn't delivered."

Ireland have a much more experienced line-up, something their skipper feels may weigh in their favour.

Against that, England have youthful exuberance.

"Yeah, it's great to have it," O'Connell said of Ireland's big match know-how.

"I suppose they (England) will point to the fact that they're young and full of running and powerful.

"I do think they have a good mixture of youth and experience – probably similar to us a little bit with the likes of David Kearney and Conor Murray and Jordi Murphy coming in, so I think we have a good mix, too."

Intriguingly, O'Connell said that in the final analysis he would regard 35-year-old Brian O'Driscoll as being an even bigger asset than when he was a younger man.

"I'd take Brian O'Driscoll now in terms of the experience and intelligence he has than maybe when he first came onto the scene. He is able to make things happen even more now."

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