Highlights on Off The Ball

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Highlights on Off The Ball

Paul O'Connell's impact on the Ireland forwards is significant | Keith Wood

Keith Wood joined Joe Molloy on Off The Ball to discuss Ireland vs. New Zealand. Wood sees Mike Catt and Paul O'Connell as critical for Ireland's success.

Paul O'Connell's impact on the...

Paul O'Connell's impact on the Ireland forwards is significant | Keith Wood

Keith Wood joined Joe Molloy on Off The Ball to discuss Ireland's Paul O'Connell and Mike Catt.

Paul O'Connell joined the Ireland coaching staff in January.

He became forwards coach so Simon Easterby became defence coach.

Since then, the forward pack has continually improved to the point that they dominated New Zealand on Saturday. Andrew Porter played 75 minutes and hit more rucks than anyone else on the field. It was a big game so Tadhg Furlong inevitably was one of the best players on the field. Ronan Kelleher was arguably the best player on the field.

Caelan Doris scored a spectacular try, while each of James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan filled their roles effectively.

The Ireland pack is as aggressive, physical and dynamic as any in World Rugby now. The development of young players and the collective health of the group have allowed it to happen. But Keith Wood believes that O'Connell is central to everything that Andy Farrell's side does well on the field.

"All of this almost comes across as a criticism of Joe Schmidt and it actually isn't," Wood said.

"This is a releasing of the reigns of a level of attention to detail that Schmidt has brought to this team. That I think is followed on by some of the coaches. There's elements of Paul O'Connell that you can see in a lot of what the forwards are doing.

"How they're hitting the contact, how they're rolling away from contact. Defensively they roll away from making a tackle to get back in the line to push it out again. The tiny little things that you're moving in the right place. It just saves you half a second. Half a second can give you the space to throw a try-scoring pass.

"Or it can put you in the defensive line to make certain everyone feels secure around you."

Schmidt is receiving plenty of veiled criticism in the wake of the Ireland result, but he played his role. He took Ireland as far as he could, but he also built the foundation of this success. O'Connell developed his playing style further under him as a player. He's carried over attributes from his career to impart onto the current Ireland players.

Wood recognizes and appreciates that.

Visible change in the pack was paired with visible change in the team as a whole.

It won't surprise anyone to learn that Keith Wood likes when forwards find themselves in space so he wants to see more of it. Ireland's forwards were all over the field on Saturday. Critically, Ireland's attack coach Mike Catt has changed how they're playing when they're there. Ireland's forwards are hitting the ball at pace so they're harder to stop.

"I played and toured with Mike Catt. He's an intelligent guy. He was an incredible game manager when he played. I was really frustrated that you're not getting to see the skills that you know this guy has. How come we're not seeing it? Now it comes to fruition. It is about getting that repeatable.

"Now the style is enough players coming from depth so they're hitting the ball at pace. 12 months ago, all the forwards were catching the ball then running. There's a collosal difference. The speed of the ball makes it faster, a whole variety of things create that but our mental attitude and our attention to detail yesterday [was good].

"Even with the mistakes, there was a freedom to make mistakes. But the attiutde was excellent throughout."

Ireland are playing to space, playing faster and playing with greater physicality. Their intensity overwhelmed New Zealand on Saturday. New Zealand head coach Ian Foster described it as the best performance his side have ever faced. O'Connell, Catt and Farrell deserve massive credit for that.

After getting two results and performance sin their first two games, Ireland can now mix up team selection for Argentina next week. Argentina struggled against Italy last week, so they shouldn't offer a stern test next week in Dublin.

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Andy Farrell Joe Schmidt Keith Wood Mike Catt Paul O'Connell