Six Nations 2015: Paul O’Connell hails Ireland’s incredible title defence
Captain delighted with record-breaking success as Joe Schmidt's men retain title after enthralling end to the "greatest championship"
Paul O’Connell hailed Ireland’s back-to-back RBS 6 Nations glory as incredible on the most dramatic day in the championship’s illustrious history.
The last time Ireland retained the title was way back in 1949, led by the inimitable Jack Kyle, who died in November last year, but the success of Joe Schmidt’s men may inevitably live much longer in the memory than that of Kyle and co, who won the title three times in four years after World War II.
I think to go back-to-back in the Six Nations is incredible. It’s a very, very difficult thing to do, particularly as Ireland is a small island with four professional teams.
Paul O’Connell on Ireland’s Six Nations title defence
Was a thumping 40-10 win over Scotland in Edinburgh enough for Ireland to retain the title and lift the new Six Nations trophy?
The players, coaches and thousands of fans gathered at BT Murrayfield awaiting the outcome of the final match of the tournament with England needing an unlikely 26-point win over France at Twickenham to deny Irish dreams.
Stuart Lancaster’s Red Rose came close in a pulsating 55-35 win, but there were increasingly jubilant scenes inside a stadium celebrating its 90th year of rugby union as cries of Allez Les Bleus! with a hint of Irish accent rang out as night fell on the Scottish capital.
And the Ireland captain admitted for a small island with just four professional clubs, to defend their crown highlights the best of Irish rugby.
“It was just an incredible day; it’s a lot better craic than last year anyway,” O’Connell said.
“In the game when you’re playing in a match and you’re trying to win it like last season at the Stade de France, you’re just trying to focus on the next moment or whatever happens next.
“The scoreline and all that is probably your only focus, and when you’re in the heat of battle, those nerves, those feelings don’t come into it.
“When you’re sitting there at the table with a few of the lads with a beer in front of you watching on the TV, you’re like a supporter.
“You’re completely powerless as to influencing the result, and it’s just such a bizarre day.
“Even the crowd afterwards, and the music during the trophy presentation: it was like Robbie Henshaw’s 21st birthday there, with the 80s hits coming out.
“I think to go back-to-back in the Six Nations is incredible.
“It’s a very, very difficult thing to do, particularly as Ireland is a small island with four professional teams.
“It just goes to show how good the athletes and the players we have are, and I think the way the provinces are run, and strength and conditioning-wise, we’re right up there too.”
The Munster lock also praised England’s spirit as they threw the kitchen sink and the works at France in search of a first title in the Lancaster era.
If only we all did so much to play every weekend, it’s already an unbelievable tournament, but I think this weekend has been brilliant for it.
Paul O’Connell on an amazing Super Saturday
It was an unbelievable response to what had come from Wales and Ireland earlier in the day, with a style of play more akin to a sevens game, and the perfect response to criticism from the southern hemisphere on the way the game is played in Europe.
And the 35-year-old added that it was a great effort six months out from the world cup in the tournament tagged as rugby’s “greatest championship”.
“That was probably the performance of the championship out of [England] to be honest,” he added.
“That will give them a lot of confidence heading into the summer internationals and the World Cup.
“I thought they were incredible. They threw caution to the wind, took a lot of quick taps and a lot of quick lineouts, and I thought they were fearless.
“France were unbelievable as well, scoring some great tries; it was a great effort for the Six Nations.
“If only we all did so much to play every weekend, it’s already an unbelievable tournament, but I think this weekend has been brilliant for it.”
No sooner had Ireland been crowned champions for the third time in six years attentions swiftly turned to whether the Ireland captain will be around for next year’s competition.
O’Connell produced a typically vintage performance against Scotland, including opening the scoring just five minutes into the contest, ending a 106-year record to become Ireland’s oldest try scorer as well as oldest captain.
As much as Ireland without Brian O’Driscoll still takes some getting used to, an Ireland side also without O’Connell in 2016 seems equally unimaginable.
His stellar championship shows that he is still more than capable of producing the goods and, if Victor Matfield can still make the South Africa starting XV at 37, Ireland’s hero still has a couple more years left in the tank.
Despite the neverending praise and additional glory, O’Connell conceded he does not have an answer on his future, simply, because he does not know himself.
“It is a strange position, but I have to be sensible as well,” O’Connell said.
“I genuinely haven’t given an answer, because I don’t have an answer myself.
“If it does finish, it’s a great way to finish.
“Brian got it last year as well, but if it doesn’t finish, it’s a great achievement to have.”