Test rugby’s top-ranked nation clash with the reigning champions on Saturday evening in a blockbuster Rugby World Cup match in Paris. Ireland go into the pivotal Pool B appointment on a 15-match winning streak, including turning over the All Blacks on enemy territory and a Dublin success over the Springboks in November. Andy Farrell’s men are viewed as slight underdogs for the Stade de France showdown but forwards coach O’Connell has backed the team to figure out a way to register another statement win.
“It’s going to take a big performance for sure,” said the former Ireland captain on a match which will have huge consequences on Scotland’s hopes of qualifying from the same pool. “They obviously present a big physical challenge, I think we present a big physical challenge, and they present a real technical challenge as well. They’re a very smart side and one of the things you probably admire most about them is the smarts they can bring along with their physicality.
“It’s a strength of our side as well, so we speak about this Irish team and what this Irish team stands for. They’ve got to bring everything they’ve brought to the big occasions they’ve been in in the last few years. We’ve had a Test series decider down in New Zealand, we’ve had a Grand Slam decider, we’ve had a tough autumn series against some very tricky opposition and the boys have always found a way and figured it out.
“It’s a real strength of theirs. They’re going to have play super well but they’re also going to have to figure things out and it’s something I really enjoy watching them do when they have a challenge in front of them, how they manage to figure it out as a group and they’re going to have to do that at the weekend.”
Ireland have the chance to qualify for the quarter-finals with a game to spare following crushing bonus-point victories over Romania and Tonga. They have won 27 of their last 29 Test matches stretching back to the 2021 Six Nations, with head coach Farrell openly embracing adversity throughout his reign. A day after France captain Antoine Dupont suffered a facial fracture against Namibia, O’Connell acknowledged Ireland will have to be adaptable and overcome setbacks in by far their biggest test of the tournament to date.
“Nothing is ever straightforward,” he said. “We were down in New Zealand (last summer), I remember I’d meet Mack (Hansen), he’d been down in the park training on his own because he had Covid. Some of the coaching staff had Covid. We’ve had all sorts of challenges thrown at us.
“It’s a big strength of Andy’s that he revels in it and enjoys it. There’s no doubt there’s going to be ups and downs during the World Cup and there will be ups and downs within the game. Players’ experience and their willingness to embrace those challenges and those obstacles is what has gotten them to where they are at the moment. There will be plenty of that tomorrow, there is no doubt about it.”