O'Connell raring to go after World Cup blow
Published 02/11/2011 | 05:00
PAUL O'CONNELL believes Ireland's World Cup was a "massive opportunity" lost but says he has parked the disappointment and is enjoying his rugby more than ever.
O'Connell was one of the stars of Ireland's unbeaten pool performance in New Zealand and a stand-out performer in the seismic victory over Australia, but could do nothing to prevent Wales dumping Declan Kidney's men out when they had been favourites to reach a first semi-final.
It was a crushing blow for the squad, particularly the more experienced members like O'Connell who may not be around for England 2015 but, nearly four weeks on, the Munster captain -- whose World Cup participation was in question a year ago due to a serious groin injury -- is relishing the return to provincial action.
In his first game back, the Pro12 clash with Aironi in Cork last Friday, O'Connell picked up the Man of the Match award, and at yesterday's Heineken Cup launch he was eagerly anticipating Friday's league clash with Leinster and returning to European action the week after against Northampton.
"There has been a great buzz since we came back (from the World Cup)," said O'Connell. "Obviously, we are disappointed with the World Cup. I thought it was a massive opportunity that we left behind us out there, but all the Ireland lads that came back with Munster are really enthusiastic to get playing.
"It would have been nice to have scored a few tries against Aironi but we haven't played together a whole lot and I thought we did well," he added.
"I was really happy with the first half-hour, really happy with the scrum -- they are a good scrummaging side, a big heavy pack and I thought we scrummaged really well.
"I am enjoying it more than ever. I didn't really have a pre-season last year; I had a great pre-season this year with Ireland above in Carton House, where we spent a lot of time.
"When you're in camp like that and you are walking 50 metres to the pitch and walking 50 metres to the gym you can get so much more work done. I really enjoyed that aspect and then getting a good run of games as well."
With a host of younger players now pushing for first-team inclusion, O'Connell is enjoying the energy around the Munster camp, but he has been particularly taken with one of the more experienced additions this season -- South African tight-head BJ Botha.
"I've played against him a good few times and was always very impressed with him," he said. "He was excellent at the weekend, he gives great leadership in the scrums, he loves scrummaging and demands a lot of everyone in the pack around him which, for me, is very enjoyable.
"When you have parts of the game that are player-led like that, they are invariably more successful."
Having spent the best part of four months bonding with their Leinster counterparts, it's rivalry renewed for Friday's clash at Lansdowne Road and O'Connell believes this will be the perfect test of Munster's readiness for Heineken Cup action.
"We had a great few months, we were together so much we kind of became a club side for a few months," said O'Connell.
"It's going to be a really tough game for us. It would be good to have run of four or five games to get into it but it's the same for everyone, you just have to deal with it and get on with it.
"We are going to be tested in every way. Our scrum is going to be tested -- Cian Healy and Mike Ross had a great World Cup -- our line-out, fitness, physicality and they play a good pressure game as well.
"There is going to be a massive crowd there, a big, heaving atmosphere so for us it's going to be a great test and one that will really let us know where we are heading into a big couple of weeks against Northampton and Castres."