Ireland backed coach Joe Schmidt - and it paid off
Paul O'Connell insists Ireland's back-to-back RBS 6 Nations titles rest entirely on never once questioning taskmaster boss Joe Schmidt's intense methods.
Ireland skipper O'Connell hailed head coach Schmidt's meticulous mindset in the wake of 40-10 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield that swiped the Six Nations crown once more.
Munster talisman O'Connell believes Ireland's twin glories are wholly constructed on full confidence in boss Schmidt - even in the wake of galling defeats.
"Joe is right up there with the best I've worked with, he is a fantastic coach," said O'Connell.
"I think the trust the players have in what he does and what his coaching staff do is a massive part of why we're successful.
"Certainly times like Australia in the first game, the England game last year, Wales last week, those were times where other teams might question themselves - but we never did.
"I don't think we've ever once done that.
"There's a lot of trust and a lot of confidence in the coaches."
Such unstinting praise is a far cry from the fallout from Ireland's first loss under ex-Leinster boss Schmidt, a 32-15 Dublin defeat to Australia in November 2013 - and O'Connell knows that, too.
O'Connell conceded Ireland had "a little bit to learn" in adapting to new boss Schmidt's approach in 2013, with the head coach citing a "disconnect" among the players for that loss.
Not since that Australia defeat could Schmidt label "defensive naivety" as among his side's shortcomings.
Attacking frailties blew a Grand Slam tilt this year, with the 23-16 defeat in Wales putting paid to Ireland's ambitions of a clean sweep.
O'Connell vowed Ireland would "keep the faith" with Schmidt's game plan amid criticism for a lack of cutting edge that compounded defeat in Wales.
The 35-year-old lock and his team-mates came good against an admittedly poor Scotland, running in four tries to land the Six Nations title on a six-point, points-difference margin.
How it would all have been so different had those Ireland stars who had never worked with Schmidt before had failed to adjust to his unremitting regime.
Schmidt's steely attention to the most minute detail led Leinster to multiple Heineken Cup and Pro12 triumphs.
When Munster claimed European glory on O'Connell's watch, passion and fervour drove the Limerick legion as much as any acumen. O'Connell was typically blunt in 2013 defeat to Wales that unless Ireland married the two approaches, the Schmidt era would have floundered from the outset.
Munster playmaker Conor Murray had just established himself as the British and Irish Lions' top scrum-half in touring victory in Australia when Schmidt took the Ireland helm.
The fast-improving half-back was not prepared to rest on his laurels however, and admitted that Schmidt has since taken him to task at every occasion.
"When Joe came in we were nervous whether he would like you as a player, the style of play and would you fit into that," said Murray. "That was the main part for me. I'm sure for a number of other players too.
"As time went on, you knew how good he was with what he had done with Leinster. It was just taking time to get used to his game plan.
"It was a little different to what we have played with before with our province or Ireland.
"But the information he gives you is so clear and so accurate, you see it on the Tuesday in the video room and it does happen on Saturday in an international game. That is no surprise.
"He studies the game unbelievably hard and knows it inside out and we are blessed to have a coach like him."