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Defeats hurt all the more now, says Ireland coach Paul O'Connell

Forwards coach still adjusting as he gets to grips with new demands


Paul O'Connell

Paul O'Connell

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Paul O'Connell

AS training was finishing up yesterday afternoon, Paul O'Connell made a point of observing how John Fogarty stepped back and allowed the players to problem-solve for themselves.

The pack had just been put through a rigorous scrum session and although the immediate inclination would have been for the coach to give further feedback or instruction, Fogarty chose to let the players talk it out.

Later on in the day, there would be a chance for Ireland's scrum coach to go through things in finer detail with the benefit of video footage, but at that stage he felt it was important for the players to own that space.

It's a small insight into how differently things are working under this new coaching set-up because in the past, the impression has certainly been given that every aspect of training was micro-managed.

For O'Connell, that has been the biggest challenge in his first two months working as Ireland's new forwards coach, as he gears up for the latest Six Nations test against Scotland on Sunday.

The former captain is old school in that he would have thrived on the forensic analysis of everything to do with the game, but O'Connell is quickly learning that approach isn't a one-size-fits-all one when it comes to coaching.

There is a sense that Ireland under Andy Farrell are still striving to find the right balance between being left off the leash and managing those smaller details, yet the players believe the new way of thinking is the way to go.

If O'Connell had his way, he would prefer to spend every waking hour working with the players in order to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

However, the realisation is hitting home that it is impossible to prepare for every potential scenario come game day, so therefore it's important to trust that the players will be able to figure out problems for themselves in the white heat of battle.

That O'Connell used the words "difficult" and "intense" to describe his introduction to international coaching speaks volumes for a man who has always thrived in the intensity of competitive environments, but is now rather more helpless in his watching brief during the 80 minutes at the weekend.

"The losses are probably even harder to take," O'Connell admitted. "But all you can do is prepare the players as well as you can and then you have got to trust them.

"Then you have got to look back at what you did to prepare them, or you have to reflect on what happened and tweak it.

"I think I might have got better at it towards the end of my playing days and probably got used to it a little bit in Paris (with Stade Francais). You have got to prepare as well as you can and then you have to trust the players and then you have got to reflect on what you did, tweak it and go again. That's all you can do."

By his own admission, Farrell has been a key driver in ensuring that O'Connell keeps hold of the reins whenever he is bursting at the seams to cover even more information.

That insatiable hunger for work, as well as success, will always be a vital part of O'Connell's make-up, and the improvements around Ireland's lineout and breakdown work has certainly shown how the players have really bought into the Limerick man's way of doing things.

"One of the things that the (High Performance Centre) training facility here has allowed is that when we are here we are working, we are training or preparing to train or at meetings," O'Connell explained.

"You try and not steer clear of players when we get back at the hotel, but you are trying to give them their own space then to switch off and relax so they can actually recover, assimilate some of the information and be ready to go again.

"When we're back in the hotel it's probably a little bit more relaxed. You're getting to know people. That's something Andy is big into, getting to know players so that when you have to deliver a piece of information that might be sensitive or critical, that they trust you and understand.

"It is definitely very relaxed, and I have seen that in a lot of environments. The coach-player relationship is a lot more relaxed than it used to be. It's a lot more about understanding one another. It's a lot more about asking questions to figure out where they are and where their understanding is at. That is a bit of a challenge for me, but it is something that I enjoy as well."

One player who is definitely cut from the same cloth as O'Connell is Johnny Sexton and even if some of the younger players might like to switch off back at the hotel, you imagine the former team-mates are constantly picking each other's brains.

"I enjoy talking to him about training and preparation and how he's trying to figure ways to look after his body," O'Connell added. "He's incredibly diligent in that regard. He can be cranky at times, but by and large I think he makes people feel good.

"The intensity that he brings to training, that he brings to meetings, that he brings to any conversation, I think it's inspiring for players to see how much it still means to him. It's a big lesson for other players.

"He does get cranky with them at times, but he's great value for any team and the longer he can stay playing, the better."


Murrayfield, Sunday, 3pm








FIXTURES, Saturday, March 13: Italy v Wales (2.15pm); England v France (4.45pm).

Sunday, March 14: Scotland v Ireland (3.00pm)

Belfast Telegraph

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