independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Paul O'Connell comeback a huge boost for Ireland

Paul O'Connell in action for Munster in their comfortable victory over Edinburgh

Munster coach Rob Penney hailed the influence of Paul O'Connell as Munster got their Heineken Cup challenge back on track after a comprehensive 33-0 bonus-point drubbing of Michael Bradley's humiliated Edinburgh side at Thomond Park.

"We all know what he's capable of," said Penney, after O'Connell completed his second successive hour of competitive action to give Declan Kidney a timely boost ahead of the November internationals.

"It's just lovely to see him now looking like he's in really good shape and giving it all for 60 minutes.

"And as he heads into the next few weeks, hopefully he can stay on the park and be rewarded for his patience and diligence to play some consistent rugby. It's terrific news for everyone."

Penney's side had no margin for error after slipping to an agonising opening-day defeat to Racing Metro. But after leading just 6-0 at half-time, Munster went into overdrive after the break, with Damien Varley's last-minute try securing five points following earlier efforts from Conor Murray, Peter O'Mahony and Sean Dougall.

They now face crucial back-to-back clashes in December, beginning at home, against Pool 1 pacesetters Saracens, who maintained their blistering European form with a 30-13 dismissal of Racing in Brussels.

"We're one game away from potentially leapfrogging them so those games are very, very important," said Penney.

Penney added: "They're a competent side, stacked with a lot of experience and a lot of talent, so it's going to be an interesting challenge for some of our more inexperienced guys to try to nullify what they bring."

Leinster, meanwhile, maintained their winning start in pursuit of a hat-trick of European crowns, but they were far from impressive in Saturday's 20-13 victory over the Scarlets in Wales.

Joe Schmidt acknowledged his side need to improve ahead of a daunting six days in December when they face back-to-back games against a Clermont side who picked up their second bonus-point win at Exeter on Saturday evening.

"I hope so, because there has to be. You can't keep surviving skinny margins like that," he admitted when asked if there was more to come from the European champions.

"It's a massive relief, especially because we know the value of the two teams we have managed to get an advantage on. The Scarlets were a bit unlucky here. The way they came back into the game, we would openly admit that."

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