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Tuesday 22 August 2017

Paul O'Connell hails 'incredible' Ireland after stunning Six Nations title decider

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell (left), and Sean O'Brian with the six nations trophy as Ireland win the Six Nation at Murrayfield Stadium at the end of the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 21, 2015. See PA story RUGBYU Scotland. Photo credit should read: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell (left), and Sean O'Brian with the six nations trophy as Ireland win the Six Nation at Murrayfield Stadium at the end of the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 21, 2015. See PA story RUGBYU Scotland. Photo credit should read: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Ireland celebrate as Ireland win the Six Nations at Murrayfield Stadium at the end of the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 21, 2015. See PA story RUGBYU Scotland. Photo credit should read: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire

Paul O'Connell labelled emulating Ireland's great 1949 team by claiming back-to-back RBS 6 Nations titles as "incredible".

Ireland secured their third Six Nations title in six years by thumping Scotland 40-10 at Murrayfield, edging home on points-difference after England beat France 55-35.

RUGBYU Scot_99.jpg
Ireland celebrate as Ireland win the Six Nations at Murrayfield Stadium at the end of the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 21, 2015. See PA story RUGBYU Scotland. Photo credit should read: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire

Ireland's captain conceded he finds himself in "a strange position", still unsure whether to retire from Test rugby after the autumn's World Cup.

The evergreen lock became Ireland's oldest try-scorer of all time at 35 years and 152 days in Edinburgh, with his first Test score for nine years - then admitted that could have been his fairytale Six Nations swansong.

Brian O'Driscoll bowed out in glory as Ireland saw off France 22-20 to claim the title in Paris last year, and O'Connell is seriously considering following suit.

"It is a strange position, but I have to be sensible as well," said O'Connell.

"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.

"I think to go back-to-back in the Six Nations is incredible.

"It's a very, very difficult thing to do, particularly 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 the way the strength and conditioning-wise we're right up there too."

Ireland's four-try victory over Scotland proved enough to secure glory again, Joe Schmidt's side edging out Wales and England to mirror the feat of the 1949 team, led by Dr Jack Kyle.

O'Connell set the tone with the game's first try, eclipsing Fred Gardiner's record as Ireland's oldest try-scorer, a mark that had stood since March 1909.

The Munster talisman led the charge as Sean O'Brien claimed a brace and Jared Payne also crossed, with Scotland unable to keep pace.

England kicked off last, knowing a 26-point cushion in victory would secure the title - but France stubbornly refused to roll over and Stuart Lancaster's men fell six points short of the required margin.

O'Connell hailed England's howitzer showing against France as "the performance of the championship", conceding there was little enjoyment in watching that Twickenham clash on the TV.

"That was probably the performance of the championship out of them to be honest," said O'Connell of England's vainglorious victory.

"And 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.

"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.

"It was just an incredible day: it's a lot better craic than last year anyway!"

Victorious coach Schmidt hailed his Ireland side for shrugging off the disappointment of last weekend's 23-16 defeat in Wales that blew a Grand Slam, to refocus and still swipe the title.

"The two titles are special for different reasons," said Schmidt.

"This is special because of the way we had to rebound from last week.

"It's special because it's been so long since we've put back-to-back Six Nations together."

Former Leinster and Clermont coach Schmidt admitted the end of the Six Nations would bring a dose of personal reality.

Schmidt's 11-year-old son Luke battled a brain tumour aged four and suffers from epilepsy.

The Ireland boss and his wife will take their son for treatment overseas next week, with Schmidt happy to put rugby in its proper context.

"Winning this tournament is a massive boost for us to be honest," said Schmidt.

"But the reality for me is that I'm on dad duty.

"I've got a sick son and we're off overseas to see specialists to try to get some help with him, so the reality for me is a long way from rugby when we fly out on Tuesday.

"So I'll park the rugby for a little while, and we'll see if we can get really lucky on both sides of what's important to us, and then we'll look towards the World Cup towards the end of April.

"There are 40,000 people with epilepsy in Ireland, so if I can help raise awareness of the condition, then hopefully that's a positive."

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