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Rugby World Cup: Irish focused on fixing silly mistakes, says Sean O'Brien

POOL DFrance v Ireland

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

France had a day off in central Cardiff yesterday, meaning their huge travelling media descended on Celtic Manor, where Ireland are preparing to face Les Bleus.

Their presence more than doubled the number of people at the press briefing, so when Sean O'Brien settled into a comfy chair, he was faced by a number of unfamiliar faces.

It was a reminder, if any were needed, that the business end of the World Cup is now upon us and, with England leaving their own party this weekend, the focus on Ireland is set to grow and grow.

The Six Nations champions struggled with their first step up in class against Italy last Sunday, and there will be no let-up in the weeks to come.

Earlier, the players had gathered to review the 16-9 win over the Azzurri with the coaches in Joe Schmidt's video review.

O'Brien was pretty unforthcoming with detail when it came to the specifics of that meeting, but he played down the ferocity of the head coach's feedback.

Instead, the openside flanker insisted that the problems exposed at the Olympic Stadium are all easily fixed.

"I think players know at this stage themselves," the Tullow man said. "They were a little bit disappointed, but I don't think there was any type of attitude or feeling - lads knew that they were all fixable mistakes and we just park and move on.

"There's no point in moping or getting downbeat about it. There's a job to do this week.

"There were certain things we weren't pleased with - handling errors, too many penalties and we put ourselves under pressure at crucial stages.

"It's all stuff that's within our control. In fairness to the Italians, they caused a lot of problems and it was no harm that we had a test like that."

Part of O'Brien's mission as an openside is to get under the skin of the opposition fly-half and the last time he crossed paths with Frederic Michalak, the France No.10 left the stage at half-time.

That was when he was wearing the red and black of Toulon in the Champions Cup semi-final last April, and Michalak (pictured) has looked a far better player since Philippe Saint-Andre backed him to be his man this time around.

Still, he hasn't played against a team as good as Ireland, and Schmidt's men will be looking to knock him off his stride.

"You would like to think you can put pressure on every fly-half, I'm sure they will be thinking the same, to put pressure on Jonny (Sexton)," O'Brien said. "(Michalak) is a very dangerous player. He is one of their leaders, so we will try and put pressure on him and try and squeeze him up."

As a former out-half, newly-appointed national skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy knows what it's like when the back-row come after you.

The ex-Greystones No.10 was part of the Leinster coaching team that prepared for that European semi-final in Marseille and one imagines that, again, Michalak has been part of the plan this week.

"He is a major threat. His goalkicking has been very good as well. He is a guy we will be keeping a close eye on, trying to put some pressure on," said Murphy.

"All out-halves can be pressurised. All out-halves rely on good-quality ball, so if we can put pressure on them at the breakdown and set-piece, that will put him under pressure."

If Ireland are to beat the French, then they'll need Michalak's opposite number, Sexton, to be at his best.

Murphy conceded that the Leinster man isn't happy with how things went last Sunday, but reckons he'll be all the better for it.

"I don't think he'll be overly happy with his performance," he said. "Against Canada, in the first game, he was excellent. With another game under his belt, he'll be in a lot better position this week.

"Jonny is well used to playing in France, he's well used to being targeted.

"He'll get on and do the job that he has to do."

O'Brien reiterated his belief that Sunday's misfiring display against Italy could yet benefit Ireland this weekend, describing it as a "rude awakening on the physicality side of things".

"It's going to be another step up this week," he said.

"You have to get your head around that. They're a more dangerous side. We're going to have to be on our game and we know what we have to do."

Belfast Telegraph


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