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Paul O’Connell interview: Ireland will bounce back from World Cup pain

Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell is interviewed by Telegraph Sport at their pre-Six Nations training camp
Paul O'Connell did not have time to stew on Ireland's World Cup near-miss - Getty Images/Harry Murphy

The concept of time being a great healer only goes so far with Paul O’Connell. True, the intensity of the pain that once accompanied defeats when he was Ireland captain no longer cuts as deeply as it once did.

Yet if the passage of time and a difference of perspective now he is part of Ireland’s coaching team has lessened the disappointment of the World Cup quarter-final defeat by New Zealand, he admits it is not something he can pretend still does not bother him.

Three months on since the 28-24 defeat at the Stade de France, and O’Connell pauses for a moment when summoning the words to explain his emotions. “I don’t think you’ll ever forget it or really move on from it,” said O’Connell, who won 108 caps for Ireland, and played in seven Tests for the British and Irish Lions across three tours.

“It just is what it is. But at the same time, I wouldn’t dwell on it too much like maybe I did when I was a player. I suppose I’m a little bit older now and I understand that that could have happened.”

Family demands helped as a distraction too. O’Connell has three children, and when he got back from France he was straight back on the school run. He also coaches his eldest son Paddy, a promising second or back row forward, and his under-14 side at Limerick club UL Bohemian RFC.

“I would say it would be difficult for players or people who don’t have a family but I was straight back into family life and coaching my son’s side, and I must say that I love it,” he added.

“The World Cup was a really enjoyable experience even though as a coach we worked long hours, I would have kept going as long as anyone wanted because it was a fantastic environment. But while I wasn’t homesick at all, I was delighted to be home and back with the family and move on.

“I thought at the World Cup we could win it, or we could end up losing a game by the smallest margin and unfortunately for us, we ended up losing the game by a small margin. I don’t think it will move on from it and put it behind me and deal with it. I will always probably remember it, but it is what it is, and we’ve got to just move on to the next thing.”

Ireland's players after they were pipped by the All Blacks in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final
Ireland's players went through 37 phases of play before the final whistle blew against New Zealand - Getty Images/David Ramos

That moving on to the next thing brings Ireland back to France, for their Guinness Six Nations opener against Les Bleus in Marseille is not lost on O’Connell. It is a game that is likely to define the outcome of the championship. France are also licking their World Cup wounds and will want to avenge their defeat in Dublin last season against the Grand Slam champions. There is no time to navel gaze.

“That’s the first thing we said when we came together as a coaching group,” O’Connell added. “What a game to play next and what again to have to almost restart from. A Friday night game in the Velodrome in Marseille against a France side who were equally as disappointed as we. It focuses the mind and gets you excited again about a new challenge. It is not about fixing anything from the World Cup but is a new challenge and a new journey.”

While the Ireland players were able to find new challenges almost immediately when they returned to their provincial sides last November, O’Connell said the line in the sand was drawn for the Irish management with an “old-school review” of the New Zealand game.

“We watched it all together and took a few things out of it and things we might have done differently. We have since spoken about it a lot. It’s funny, if we don’t allow them to score off a four-man line-out, or we put the ball down on the line off a maul and it is a different scenario and it’s a different feeling, but it would be a very small difference.

“We have to make sure that we realize what we’re doing well and continue with that and don’t allow it to distract us from a lot of the good things we’ve done over the last number of years.

“I think it’s something that Irish players do well is that they can in moments when things aren’t exactly going our way and fix things on their own.

“We have had plenty of conversations with the players since the World Cup and most of them seem in good form. I think plenty of them struggled after it and were really disappointed and have all dealt with it in their different ways. Some came out of it quickly, some of them struggled and that is normal.

“Now it is about getting back into our way of doing things, our way of training, our way of preparing and our outlook on the game and hopefully we can pick up where we left off in the last 60 minutes of the game against New Zealand rather than the first 20 minutes of the game against New Zealand.”

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