Veteran lock O’Connell will equal Mick Galwey’s record as Ireland’s oldest captain of all time at exactly 35 years and 145 days at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. The Munster talisman will become just the fourth star to hit 100 Tests for Ireland, joining Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara and John Hayes in the century club. Press Association Leinster hooker Cronin hailed O’Connell’s “intensity and physicality” as the crux of Ireland’s relentless pursuit of ever-higher standards under taskmaster boss Joe Schmidt. “It’s a phenomenal achievement: I think he’s getting better with it even as the years go on,” said Cronin, as Ireland look to home in on a second Grand Slam in six years this weekend. “But he’s the kind of player that, whenever he’s playing, he nearly makes you play better because that’s the enthusiasm, the passion, the physicality that he brings. “He kind of instils that in the players around him, it’s great to play under him. “He sets the standard and you’ve got to get up there with him. “He’ll demand it off you one way or another, so it’s great to play with a person like that, because it raises your standards as well.” O’Connell will stride past a multitude of milestones in Cardiff this weekend, as he aims to mark his 50th Six Nations performance by setting Ireland a new winning Test run of 11 matches. Wales and Scotland block Ireland’s path to Grand Slam glory and a third career Six Nations crown for O’Connell. As the teams complete preparations in the Millennium Stadium’s bowels this weekend, O’Connell will launch into a trademark tub-thumping team talk. Cronin acknowledged the legend around O’Connell bringing team-mates to tears with his unbridled pre-match passion – but admitted the Munster stalwart’s rhetoric far more fearsome than emotive. “I’ve nipped out a couple of times to dot the eyes during his talks!” joked Cronin of myths O’Connell can invoke raw emotions. “No, but seriously, he scares me more than makes me cry to be honest with you. “He brings a certain level, you see him doing it, his intensity, physicality, attention to detail. “So when you see him doing that, you’re saying to yourself ‘I need to get to that as well’. “If 15 or 23 lads get to that level, we’re hard to beat. “He’s similar to Joe (Schmidt) in some ways. “Paul isn’t going to get to the heights of Test rugby that he has without hard work and accuracy. “He’s got great influence on the squad, the lads buy into that and he’s fantastic to have around.” Evergreen Paul O’Connell can still scale new heights ahead of notching his 100th Ireland cap in Saturday’s pivotal RBS 6 Nations showdown in Wales, according to Sean Cronin.
Redshirt senior striker Alex Anthony scored 1 of USC’s 2 goals in the Trojans’ first-round win against Eastern Washington. Photo by Matt Karatsu | Daily TrojanAfter an uneven come-from-behind win Saturday afternoon against Eastern Washington, the No. 9 women’s soccer team (15-3-1) will travel to College Station, Tex., to face No. 23 Baylor (14-5-2) in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday afternoon.The Women of Troy struggled against Big Sky champion Eastern Washington last week, taking two overtime periods to down the Eagles thanks to goals from junior forward Erika Okuma and redshirt senior forward Alex Anthony.Despite the win, the Trojans were expected to handle their first-round opponents with ease — USC cruised past Eastern Washington 3-1 in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament — and the team will have to regroup ahead of its matchup against Baylor and change its mentality at the start of the game.“We got to flesh this one a little bit and go back to what we have been able to do for a large part of the season,” head coach Keidane McAlpine said. “We definitely have to be a lot more focused to start games, having our shot percentage be a lot better, and that will definitely be our focus [against Baylor].”USC will continue to rely on leading scorer Anthony to come up with the goals. Her score against Eastern Washington raised her tally to 9 this season, and she looks to continue spearheading the Trojan offense. She only scored 1 postseason goal during last year’s championship run, but it was a game-winning effort against Auburn in the quarterfinals.On the other side, Baylor comes off a 3-2 win over Rice in its first-round match. The game went back and forth, with both teams exchanging leads throughout the game. It was Rice that struck first in the 17th minute, but Baylor responded quickly. 2 goals in two minutes from senior defender Precious Akanyirige and senior midfielder Aline de Lima gave Baylor a 2-1 lead heading into halftime. A score by Rice in the 56th minute evened up the game once again, and it took until the 74th minute for Baylor to retake the lead. Sophomore forward Raegan Padgett netted the decisive goal, while junior forward Lauren Piercy provided the assist for all three Baylor goals.This season, the Bears are offensively led by de Lima, who has 7 goals and seven assists this season, and Piercy, who has 4 goals and three assists (all of her contributions have come off the bench). For the year, the team is averaging 19 shots per game — almost seven on target — and has scored 32 goals in 21 games.The Bears’ defense has also been impressive this season, only surrendering 13 goals and 8.8 shots per game. By comparison, USC’s defense has allowed 16 goals and 9.2 shots per game in 19 games this season.Baylor’s road to the NCAA playoff was a long and often unlikely one. Finishing fifth in the Big 12 regular season standings, the Bears were not expected to go far in the conference tournament. However, Baylor found its form in the tournament, overcoming No. 18 Texas in the first round, No. 17 Oklahoma State in the second round and TCU in the final to win the Big 12 championship. Baylor outscored its opponents 7-2 and outshot them 57-32 in the process. The Bears’ most impressive performance came against Oklahoma State — the Big 12 regular-season champions — when they outshot the Cowboys 23-5 and came away with a 3-0 win.The Trojans will look to slow down the streaking Bears on Friday at 1:30 p.m. A win against Baylor would see the Trojans advance to the third round on Sunday, awaiting a matchup against the winner of No. 6 Texas A&M vs. Notre Dame.