O'Connell happy to go into Italy battle with 'beast'
03 Oct 2015 - 17:01
London: Ireland captain Paul O'Connell is delighted to be going into a game he expects to be a bruising encounter with Italy on Sunday accompanied by the second row partner he describes as a 'beast' Iain Henderson.
O'Connell, 35 and in his last campaign for his country, said Sunday's clash with Italy will be a no holds-barred contest at London Olympic Stadium with the stakes extremely high for both sides.
The Irish -- two-time Six Nations champions under coach Joe Schmidt -- can reach the quarter-finals with a victory whilst defeat for Italy would end their chances of reaching the knockout stages.
An Ireland win would also guarantee France a quarter-final place with the two of them facing off in Cardiff next weekend to decide who finishes top and avoids playing defending champions New Zealand in the last eight.
O'Connell, though, is focused on clearing the Italy hurdle with memories of a bad-tempered 2011 clash -- which the Irish comfortably won 36-6 -- still fresh in his memory.
Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini -- who is injured -- was banned for 15 weeks for gouging Cian Healy, who is on Ireland's replacements bench.
"I've no doubt we'll be battered up front and pushed to the limit," said O'Connell, who is to leave Munster and finish his career at three-time European champions Toulon.
"They're always incredibly physical games against Italy with the emphasis on the scrum, and big emphasis around their defence.
"There's no doubt it's going to be really tough, so that's what we've been preparing for.
"There's been a change in mindset because it's a knockout game for us.
"Iain (Henderson) has obviously been playing great rugby. He's a real beast. So that's just in the second row. It's all across the team, that level of competition, I think."
O'Connell, who despite numerous injuries has been on three British and Irish Lions tours and won over 100 caps for his country, said the spirit in the Ireland squad was unrivalled to previous ones he had been involved with.
"I can't remember a World Cup before where we've sat as a group on couches and watched all the games," said O'Connell.
"That builds the excitement for us.
"Personally I'm more excited than ever because there aren't many more of them to come."
O'Connell said he hoped training rehearsals would be replicated on the pitch no matter how much they are provoked by the Italians, who will have talismanic captain Sergio Parisse back in the team.
"I suppose we talk about our preparation during the week all the time, it seems like a bit of a mantra to us, but that competitiveness in training leads us to preparing very well.
"You do not want to give away a penalty in training. You don't want to drop the ball down in training, you don't want to get a line-out wrong, that kind of stuff.
"You want to know your role inside-out. And competition for places really improves that standard."