Thursday 25 December 2014

Rob Penney: Return of Paul O’Connell a major lift

Published 22/03/2013 | 11:43

Rob Penney
Munster's Paul O'Connell during squad training ahead of their side's Celtic League match against Connacht on Saturday
Paul O'Connell, centre, is tackled by team-mates John Ryan, left, and Alan Cotter during squad training

It is great to be back in competitive action again this weekend, and the challenge now is to make sure we are playing every weekend from now until May 25.

That's a fair old challenge but that's what we are aiming to do in this block. It is the business end of the season and you want to be involved in everything, simple as that.

We have planned it as well as possible but, of course, there are a lot of factors outside our control, not least on the injury front. But we deal with each issue as it arises.

There are a whole string of important games from here to summer but none is more important at this stage than our game against Connacht tomorrow in Cork.

That is what all the focus is on – all the other games will take care of themselves as they arise.

We have lost our way a bit in the Rabo in our last few matches and we need to collect points in this one and then see what happens.

But we know it will not be easy against Connacht. They are on a bit of a roll and will be up for it.

I have found throughout the season that each of the teams in this league are strong, every team is a concern. Connacht are a side who have really improved.

They are a Heineken Cup team and have been for the past couple of seasons.

You only have to look at how they performed against the likes of Harlequins, Biarritz and others to be reminded just how formidable they are.

But we are at home tomorrow and need the points, so hopefully it will go well for us. We did not get the desired results in the last block of games so we have ground to make up. But that's the challenge.

We will have some of the Irish boys back tomorrow. The Six Nations is over and all the focus now is on the final segment of the season. We have a lot to play for.

Injuries, of course, are a big factor. I was very disappointed for Keith Earls. He is looking at six to eight weeks, hopefully the earlier time, but you can't rush these things either.

Simon Zebo is making progress but we will just need to wait and see how it goes. We have a good squad and you need that.

Having Paul O'Connell back has lifted everyone. Paulie is such an iconic figure. I used a Maori word during the week when I was chatting about him. Back home we use the term manu – basically if someone has manu they have real respect and presence.

You either have it or you don't, and not many people in the world have it. But Paulie has.

So, obviously, having someone like that back on board is a huge boost – and the timing is perfect. Guys like that lift people. We have a lot of footie to play this season and we need to be doing it at a high tempo.

The evenings are starting to get longer, we are moving towards the end-game but I can't believe how cold it still is! It's freezing.

Hopefully, our boys will give the fans something to warm them in Musgrave Park tomorrow. The support we get is just phenomenal, I'm still trying to get used to it.

We have plenty of reasons to collect points tomorrow – rewarding our fans is as good a reason as any.

Hopefully, it will work out, and thanks for your support.

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