Saturday 3 December 2016

O'Callaghan: Munster can create their best story ever

Published 14/10/2016 | 02:30

Donncha O’Callaghan was in Dublin for the launch of the #TeamOfUs shirt swap initiative
Donncha O’Callaghan was in Dublin for the launch of the #TeamOfUs shirt swap initiative

European rugby was once the highlight of his season but nowadays Donncha O'Callaghan watches from afar.

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It's not that Worcester Warriors aren't in Europe but, not surprisingly, a Challenge Cup trip to Russia doesn't feature that highly on the club's list of priorities.

Instead, the majority of their focus at the moment is being geared towards their Premiership clash with Harlequins in three weeks which is something that O'Callaghan is still trying to get his head around.

A trek to Siberia to play Enisei-STM is up there with the least glamorous ties in rugby (just ask Connacht) and it is a far cry from the trip to Paris that O'Callaghan's former side face on Sunday. At 37, O'Callaghan feels fitter than ever and is enjoying a new lease of life with Worcester but Munster are never too far from his thoughts.

The same could probably be said for one of his former team-mates who is now based in Paris with Racing 92, but O'Callaghan knows Ronan O'Gara well enough to know that for the next four months at least, all sentiment will be firmly put to one side.

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"I think he absolutely will (have an influence on Sunday)," O'Callaghan smiles. "Just knowing him, he's a competitor and a winner. ROG won't be like, 'Oh it's Munster'.

"I think he can bring an emotional attachment as well that the lads will actually want to go well for him to reflect the work he's doing. You'd like to think that.

"The disappointment of losing the final last year, these are the little things that he could identify with - what you need to actually succeed. He will have a massive influence.

"He will have a massive emotional influence as well. They could see it as just another big game whereas he can hopefully - sorry, hopefully not - make sure they rise to such a challenge.

"I just know that if I was playing for someone like him that gives it his all like he does, you'd want to reflect the week well for him. You'd want to reflect the work he puts into you. That's what we had when we played with him and the good guys understand that. It's a massive match for him and they will look to put out their best performance."

The similarities between the current Munster squad and the one that O'Callaghan won two Heineken Cups with may not seem all that obvious but the Cork native disagrees. Munster face a huge battle to get out of a Champions Cup pool that includes Racing as well as Glasgow and Leicester who play each other this evening.

Losing three of their six games last season rendered their European campaign a failure and although an even bigger test lies ahead this time around, O'Callaghan is adamant that it is one that Munster can pass.

"There's no doubt we're underdogs going into it but I'd be licking my lips if I was in that squad," he maintains.

"With what went on in the last year, it could honestly be the best Munster story ever, in terms of the opportunity they have to do well.

"No one is giving them a chance. No one thinks that after barely qualifying last year that it could be one of the great stories. It's backs-to-the-wall stuff. It's exactly where we were. It's how the lads run with that. I know that it was a massive driver in our dressing room that no one rated us.

"I've played with these lads all the way through and their want and drive is no greater than any of us. It is difficult but this is their opportunity, their time.

"I have no doubt that people looked at our team sheet, even in '06 and '08 and went, 'Who are they? Who are the Donncha O'Callaghans? The John Kellys, the Marcus Horans?' They are the guys you want for Munster to do well. The guys that care so much that they can actually play at 120pc whereas you have a marquee player that is incredibly talented but might go out and operate at 80pc. It's the exact same now.

"I honestly think that is a brilliant piece of fuel for their fire that people would think that about them. I know I would certainly love it if I was in that dressing room."

Last week's below-par performance at the Aviva raised plenty of questions about where Munster are in the early stages of Rassie Erasmus' reign but O'Callaghan has seen enough to believe that they won't get left behind in Europe.

Fuel

"I think he's done an incredible job," he says of Munster's new South African director of rugby.

"Just from chatting to the guys and I try not to be a pothole about it but they are happy. They are in no doubt about what they have to do. There is real clear direction.

"Once you give lads that and we've seen it with Joe Schmidt, if you give them clear direction, they love that and they'll chew it up. Leinster could have cut loose at times but there is never any harm in getting a kick up the arse a week before Europe, in terms of really focusing guys." Donncha O'Callaghan was speaking at Vodafone Ireland's #TeamOfUs shirt swap launch

Irish Independent

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