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Paulie's bracing to battle a 'beast'


Victor Matfield has singled out Paul O'Connell, left, as the best player he has played against

Victor Matfield has singled out Paul O'Connell, left, as the best player he has played against

Victor Matfield has singled out Paul O'Connell, left, as the best player he has played against

This South Africa could be the best Paul O'Connell has faced in his career.

Better than the lot that beat the British & Irish Lions in 2009.

Better than the 2007 World Cup winners.

They could be. This remains to be seen.

"They really found their form in the middle of the Rugby Championship. It is hard to say this early. But, you look at the potential," said the Irish captain.

"They have retained all the excellent qualities that they used when we went on the Lions tour and they beat us and when they won the World Cup.

"They've retained all those really strong building blocks to their game and they've added another element to it now with a really good attacking game which, potentially, they always had.

"But, they didn't use it as often. Yeah, they have the potential to be an incredible side."

O'Connell is steeped in the muscled-up mindset of Munster rugby which sees brute force as a beautiful thing.

You cannot have the rapier with the steel. Physicality comes first. And foremost. "There's no doubt about it, the physical part of the game is suited to the South Africans.

"It's a massive part of rugby and Bakkies Botha obviously played a fantastic role for them in that in the last few years, and Eben Etzebeth did the same in the last number of years.

"There's no doubt that having big, athletic men helps you be successful in rugby and that's probably a big part of Joe's work with Jason Cowman (Ireland strength & conditioning coach), is trying to bring on that part of the Irish squad's profile.

"I think we have some great athletes but I think we could be bigger as well. We could be more physical.

"If we can add that to the smartness I think we show, the good kicking game we've shown with our provinces and with Ireland, I think we have the potential to be an excellent rugby team.

"It is a big part of South African rugby that they just have naturally, and Eben Etzebeth is every bit the kind of beast you want in your team."

While Ireland were incredibly consistent in the 2014 Six Nations, the southern hemisphere countries bring the barometer with them.

It would surely be beneficial, even necessary, to undo either South Africa or Australia this month given what's coming in 2015.


"You'd like to be heading to the World Cup with some big scalps and I think that's what Joe (Schmidt) has said all along," concurred O'Connell.

"We have a three-game Test series and we'd love to take one of the big southern hemisphere teams down.

"At times, it's not always an indicator of success. We brought great form into the World Cup in 2007 and didn't produce.

"I think one of the things we talk about is improvement.

"If we can improve from game to game, series to series, then that's what we want."

Forwards coach Simon Easterby is certain "there is a real drive from the players".

The last-in, first-out decision by his predecessor, John Plumtree, left Schmidt turning to the former Irish blindside.

What can Easterby bring? "I'd like to think my forward pack that work on the weekend will have an edge to them. They have to."