Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell believes the Irish players can handle being favourites for tomorrow’s Six Nations game against Wales at the Principality Stadium.
O’Connell said there were no late fitness concerns after the Ireland squad had their final training session in the Welsh capital on the eve of their championship opener. Ireland haven’t won a Six Nations game in Cardiff since 2013 and O’Connell says whether they’re favourites or not is irrelevant to the players.
“I suppose we talk about it (being favourites) a little bit but maybe it was something back in my playing day anyway, we try and run away from,” he said.
"I think these guys, it doesn't bother them either way. They’re probably happy to be world number one but more focused on getting better really than remaining world number one,” O’Connell said at the Principality stadium today.
“So even though we discuss it the odd time - favouritism and what that means - there's a focus on getting better in the group.
"That's all you see with the Irish players. Whenever you go around the provinces and you chat to them, all they're focused on is getting better and improving and how to make the team better.
"There's a really good leadership group here that - you'll never have cracked the anxiety piece around the big games, there’s always a little bit there - but they've cracked focusing on the performance and getting good performances.
"And I suppose seeing where that leaves us rather than being too worried about winning or losing.”
O’Connell confirmed that Munster prop Roman Salanoa joins up with the Ireland squad as cover for Tadhg Furlong who was ruled out of tomorrow’s Six Nations opener with a calf injury.
O’Connell said Furlong is “progressing well, he ran today”. O’Connell also believes that Warren Gatland can have an immediate impact in his second coming as Wales head coach.
“I think one of the most important things in a physical game is having the clarity on how you're going to play the game so that you can be physical when you do play it and that's one of the strengths that Warren Gatland’s teams have,” O’Connell added.
“I think it’s going to be a physical tussle – every game in this competition is going to be a physical battle. It's part and parcel of the game. And you've got to be prepared for that and you got to be looking forward to it. I think it's a strength of ours and it's a strength of Wales as well.
“It seems international rugby - the top teams have gotten closer and closer over the last number of years and there's very little between teams.
"We’d a good autumn but it could have been a disappointing autumn as well but for a few points here and there. I've no doubt tomorrow will be a tight game as well. But we're in a good place.
"We've good clarity on what we're doing. Players, there’s real good leadership and ownership in the group so they're in a good place to put out a good performance.”