Ireland v Italy, Rugby World Cup, October 2
Fear of failure inspires O'Callaghan
September 30, 2011
Donncha O'Callaghan admtis Ireland are under massive pressure against Italy © Getty Images
Donncha O'Callaghan admits the fear of returning home at this stage of the World Cup fuels his desire to ensure Ireland enter unchartered territory.
An exhausting series of flights back to Dublin is the prospect awaiting the squad if they fail to dispatch Italy in Sunday's do-or-die showdown at Otago Stadium. O'Callaghan was present in France four years ago when a highly-fancied Ireland team failed to progress beyond the group stage of the tournament.
While New Zealand has proved a far happier hunting ground, the nation's greatest World Cup result against Australia will have a hollow ring to it if Italy prevail in Dunedin. O'Callaghan is determined for Ireland, who have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals, to establish 2011 as a vintage year.
"For me personally you have to play with that fear of being sent home, that horrible feeling when you wake up and realise it's all over. That's what drives me," he said. "Some lads will say they love the challenge and all that, but in 2007 my head was still spinning two weeks after we came home.
"I was thinking 'what just happened?'. It's hard to put the feeling into words. This tour has been great fun, but this is the business end of it now. This is where we want to separate ourselves from other Irish sides."
Teams who are level on points at the end of the group phase are ranked according to their head to head result. With that scenario a possibility in Pool C, Ireland could depart the World Cup despite having produced the result of the tournament against the Wallabies and having won three out of four pool games. The stakes are high and O'Callaghan views it as knockout rugby that has arrived a week early.
"It's mad, we're into cup final stuff with 80 minutes giving us the chance to have 80 more," said the Lions second row. "(Coach) Declan Kidney has said because of the Heineken Cup we're bred on cup final rugby and that's how it is. It's a pool game, but for us it's the start of the knockout stage.
"If we win, we progress. If we lose we go home. It's massive pressure, but that's what we're here for. Before this tournament we'd have given anything to be in this position."
While the consequences of defeat are significant, it is a match 1/10 favourites Ireland should win given they have accumulated 15 successive victories against Italy. But events in Rome in February, when only a late drop-goal from Ronan O'Gara prevented an Azzurri triumph, issued a sobering reminder that an upset is possible.
"When you look at the last game against Italy and how close that was, you never play them expecting to win, you must get everything right," said O'Callaghan. "It doesn't suit us to go into matches with an arrogant idea that we're better than anyone. We have to do the work and if we're good enough on the day we'll get the result, if not we go home."
The key battle ground will be up-front where Italy's forwards, who are capable of mixing it with most Test packs, will seek to gain a crucial foothold. The scrum will come under heavy scrutiny following Nick Mallett's claim that the Azzurri have a better front row and are keen to prove that on Sunday.
"The scrum is hard to call. I'd like to think the Italian scrum isn't stronger than ours, but only Sunday will tell," said O'Callaghan. "I can make all sorts of claims about our scrum now, but it won't matter an ounce if we don't put it in on Sunday.
"Italy have an incredible scrum and we'll have to play out of our skins to live with it. It will be a massive area in this match. The scrum is like a game within a game. We're a work rate pack. We like to think that if we get through enough work, then Italy will think there are 10 of us.
"There have been some great days for this pack. England in March was great. When our forwards are doing well and are too busy for anything bar work, backing each other up, it's a great place to be. You gave to get the pitch right. Too much and you get whistled off the pitch, too little and you're run off the pitch."
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