Schmidt expects O’Connell to return to face Wales

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt says that he is confident that captain Paul O’Connell will be fit to face Wales this weekend after he withdrew from the team that played Scotland.

The New Zealander only discovered seven hours before Sunday’s kick-off that the British and Irish Lions second row had been laid low by a chest infection he’d contracted the previous night.

However, Ireland, made light of O’Connell’s absence by launching their Six Nations campaign this season with a 28-6 win over Scotland at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road.

“I’m pretty relieved to be honest, the day didn’t start too well,” said Schmidt after a match where Ireland scored three tries through Andrew Trimble, Jamie Heaslip and 50th cap-winner Rob Kearney.

“I got a phone call at eight o’clock in the morning to say that Paul O’Connell had a chest infection and had been awake most of the night so he was ruled out and Dan Tuohy came into the starting line-up and Iain Henderson onto the bench.”

Schmidt paid tribute to the late replacements by saying,”I think it’s a real credit to those guys how they adapted quickly.

“It’s a real relief to me that the game’s over and done with and we managed to get the win on the board.”

Schmidt, though, said he expected O’Connell back for the second round match against Wales.

“I’d be really surprised if he’s not. He should be back by Tuesday, for training, and hopefully he can train fully on Thursday. I would be really confident of that.”

Ireland are the only team to have beaten Wales in the past two Six Nations, launching last year’s tournament with a 30-22 win at the Millennium Stadium.

But there was a realisation they’d need to improve greatly on their performance against Scotland if they were to beat the two-time defending champions in Dublin this coming Saturday after Wales started off with a nervous 23-15 win at home to Italy.

“It is nice to get off to a winning start,” said Kearney.

“However, we are under no illusions at the massive challenge that awaits us in six days They are going for three in a row (Six Nations titles) which their coach Warren Gatland doesn’t stop telling everyone,” the full-back added.

Kearney agreed the fact Gatland dropped icon Brian O’Driscoll — who won a record Irish 129th cap on Sunday — from the final British and Irish Lions Test against Australia last year would only add to the atmosphere.

“Yes, I think it will spice it up,” he said.

Early in Sunday’s second half, Scotland were just five points behind against Ireland at 11-6 down after scrum-half Greig Laidlaw kicked his second successful penalty.

But from then on it was one-way traffic, with Scotland’s familiar problem of failing to turn possession and territory into tries again costing them dear.

They will lack nothing for motivation when England come to Edinburgh on Saturday for the latest edition of rugby union’s oldest international fixture.

But the way England’s novice backs impressed against France, albeit during a 26-24 defeat in Paris, put Scotland’s problems behind the scrum into ever sharper focus.

“There was a naivety with our team, we had more attacks in their 22 than they (Ireland) did in ours but we just couldn’t convert,” lamented Scotland coach Scott Johnson.

“There’s inexperience in that backline, they are still growing as lads,” the Australian added. “They don’t understand they are doing the hard bits quite easily, but it’s the finishing off.”

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