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Paul O'Connell is saving his best rugby moments to last

Skipper believes Ireland are building a special team as he ponders retirement

By Nick Purewal

Paul O'Connell believes Ireland could be building the best Test side of his lengthy career as Joe Schmidt's men start to home in on an RBS Six Nations Grand Slam.

Ireland suffocated England into a 19-9 submission in Dublin yesterday, teeing up a serious tilt at a first Six Nations clean sweep in six years.

O'Connell's side equalled Ireland's Test record of 10 consecutive victories in sweeping past Stuart Lancaster's England, with Robbie Henshaw claiming his first international try.

Captain O'Connell has admitted head coach Schmidt could forge a side to surpass even the achievements of the 2009 Grand Slam-winning side that contained greats like Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.

"Yeah, it's close to it," said O'Connell when asked if Ireland now boast the best side of his career. "I think we're doing a lot of things really well.

"The way we're preparing is a lot different from what we've done in the past in my time here.

"I just think the game-by-game focus suits Irish teams and Irish people. I'm sure the coaches look at the bigger picture but for us, there will be a fairly brutal review of this game and we'll be put under pressure then to prepare certain things for Wales, and that will be the sole focus of the players.

"And it works well for us, it gets the best out of us.

"It's creating a brilliant set-up and an exciting set-up to be involved in."

O'Connell racked up his 99th Ireland cap in yesterday's one-sided victory, the hosts taking control despite the Munster talisman rating Lancaster's England even more highly than the 2003 World Cup-winning team.

O'Connell said once again that he has not yet made a decision on when exactly he will call his Test career quits.

The 35-year-old said he will make that decision around the time of the autumn's World Cup, so that tournament could prove his Test swansong.

Admitting he may already have played his last Six Nations match in Dublin, O'Connell said: "It could have been but I don't know yet, I'm undecided.

"I'll make the decision soon, I want to play to the World Cup and be in the best shape I can there and see after that.

"That probably was my last Six Nations game against England in Dublin: there's no point kidding myself too much.

"I'm not trying to make a big deal by not saying anything, I just genuinely haven't decided what to do yet.

"I'm really enjoying playing at the moment in the set-up we have in Ireland, but I'm conscious we have a lot of good second-rows coming through.

"The World Cup is a big focus for me to try to go there and be in the best shape I can, and around then will be decision-time for me."

Boss Schmidt has guided Ireland from ninth to third in the world rankings and victory over England leaves only New Zealand to beat for the Kiwi to run the full win card against major Test powers.

The former Clermont and Leinster coach admitted he is still not ready to talk openly about a Grand Slam tilt, despite the reigning champions now being odds-on to retain their title.

"No, I'll wait for Brian O'Driscoll's tweet to put the pressure on me," said Schmidt of discussing the Grand Slam.

O'Driscoll tweeted that Ireland could be on for a Grand Slam following the 18-11 victory over France.

Schmidt continues to take any backing of his side with a pinch of salt, despite England becoming the latest to fall.

"Grand Slams don't happen that often, it's pretty hard to get them," said Schmidt.

"It's going to be hard, Wales have got themselves back into the Championship and the last time they won the Championship, they lost their first game at home and went on to win the tournament.

"They are no doubt eyeing something similar."

Belfast Telegraph


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