Paul O’Connell shoots down Austin Healey’s ‘turgid Ireland’ claim

• O’Connell says Ireland ‘want to play’ against Wales given the chance
• Robin McBryde: ‘Nature of the game is teams wear each other down’
Sportblog: The day Joe Schmidt had to be bullied into coaching
Wales raise roof for crucial Six Nations match against Ireland

The Ireland captain, Paul O’Connell, has dismissed criticism that his team play unattractive rugby under Joe Schmidt after the former England scrum-half Austin Healey said that while effective, their style was turgid.

Ireland, the champions, lead the Six Nations with a 100% record and will be on course to retain the title for the first time since 1949 if they defeat Wales in a city where they have lost only twice in the tournament since 1983.

O’Connell, who will win his 100th cap at the Millennium Stadium, defended Schmidt’s team against Healey’s remarks. “I think he’s wrong,” said O’Connell, who made his international debut against Wales 13 years ago. “We have an excellent skill-set that we use, although it will probably be difficult against the back three we face this weekend. I think we have played a lot of rugby under Joe, if not as much as we would have liked in recent times. We want to play, Wales want to play and it should be a cracking game.”

Nonetheless, Wales and Ireland have scored only seven tries between them in this year’s Six Nations and the sellout crowd on Saturday were warned by the Wales forwards’ coach, Robin McBryde, that while the roof will be open, the game is unlikely to be.

“I am not too sure about that,” said McBryde when asked if the spectators would see a flowing game. “There is a lot at stake. Ireland are on course for a grand slam and they will be looking to come away from Cardiff with a win. Playing attractive rugby will come second. The nature of the game at the moment is that teams wear each other down and unfortunately the spectators have to pay a price for that. Our players have always been given the licence to play what’s in front of them, but the old adage that a game is won and lost up front will be true on Saturday.”

O’Connell, who is considering retiring after the World Cup, said he was enjoying playing more than ever. “I am a very different player than when I started out, aware that I cannot do everything. It will be a big pull when I stop playing.

“When I was 27 I thought I would retire at 31 or 32 because there were times when I found it hard but now I enjoy it more than ever, the training, the preparation, the knowledge. I guess it comes down to experience: back in the day, we put pressure on ourselves with Ireland and Munster, but all you can do is prepare the best you can and do the best you can when playing and enjoy the game.

“I never thought I would reach 100 caps when I started out. I was fortunate to come into a very experienced Munster team and was able to tread water. It was the same with Ireland. In my first week with the squad I roomed with the Claw [Peter Clohessy]. I would be woken by the smell of cigarette smoke in the morning because he would light up as soon as he got up. It has changed a lot since then.”

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Paul Rees

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