Penney hails O'Connell hunger for Reds action
Published 22/03/2014 | 02:30
While other mortals may have been content with a week off following Ireland's Six Nations heroics – and many have – Paul O'Connell is raring for action.
In fairness, the second-row is relatively lightly raced this season following his delayed seasonal debut and Munster coach Rob Penney didn't need to be persuaded when the Limerick man demanded a start against Treviso this evening.
And, with Toulouse visiting Limerick seven days later, this promises to be a hectic few weeks' activity for the impatient lock. It should not surprise those who know him.
When O'Connell was speaking on the plinth of the Stade De France amphitheatre last weekend, nearly two hours after the famous win, a French colleague motioned to the tablecloth beneath the still-uniformed captain.
The cloth was billowing furiously with seemingly invisible blows; these were O'Connell's knees, the result of a toe-tapping frenzy.
"The battle is over!" marvelled my colleague; not so, it seems.
O'Connell, whose acclaim of Ireland's win was laced with a stinging rebuke of how the last 10 minutes of it were achieved, remained as insatiable in his thirst for success this week as he did last.
"Paul wanted to be involved this weekend to keep building from the momentum of his successful Six Nations campaign with the Irish team," revealed Penney as he announced a surprise inclusion that will surely add more than a few clicks to the Thomond turnstiles
"It shows the calibre of the player. He came to watch the team train on Tuesday. He wants to contribute against Treviso and secure more game time ahead of a crucial period."
Somewhat more conventionally, Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony are rested after their international exertions and it is noticeable also that Penney hasn't necessarily stocked his side with those likely to start against Leinster either.
Simon Zebo, for one, is benched although some locals may feel that a start for JJ Hanrahan at pivot ahead of Ian Keatley may serve as a fertile breeding ground for him to sustain an argument to retain that place in the next fortnight.
Keith Earls, another of the phalanx of outside Ireland backs who were jilted from Ireland's successful spring through untimely injury, will be gunning to hit the ground running when he pitches up on the right wing.
Damien Varley is also on the timely comeback trail, returning to captain the side in his first start since January as Penney makes 11 changes to the side that were beaten by Scarlets last time out.
Earls forms one of four changes to the backline with Felix Jones at full-back, James Downey coming in to partner Casey Laulala in the centre. Johne Murphy keeps his place on the left wing with Duncan Williams staying at scrum-half.
Donnacha Ryan is the only forward to keep his place in the starting XV with the Limerick man moving from lock to flanker. Varley, James Cronin and John Ryan make up the front-row.
Billy Holland comes into the side to partner O'Connell in the second-row. Sean Dougall and Paddy Butler, who makes his first appearance since January after suffering a spinal concussion on club duty, are named in the back-row with Donnacha Ryan.
New Zealand hooker Quentin MacDonald was nominated for Munster's Heineken Cup squad this week and could make his debut off the bench.
Treviso have yet to win this year, but do boast a home win against tonight's opposition earlier this season. They welcome back a majority of their Italian stars and their set-piece will, presumably, form the bed-rock of their challenge.
Munster's five-game winning run in all tournaments ended when they visited Llanelli last month, but they are the only remaining side in the Pro12 with a 100pc home winning record this season.
Treviso have lost seven on the bounce, have not won away from home in the league since December 2012 – and no Italian side has ever beaten Munster on their own turf.
O'Connell has not swapped a well-earned week on the couch to see any of these statistical minutiae shredded.
Munster – F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams; J Cronin, D Varley capt, J Ryan, B Holland, P O'Connell, D Ryan, S Dougall, P Butler. Reps: Q MacDonald, D Kilcoyne, S Archer, D O'Callaghan, CJ Stander, G Hurley, I Keatley, S Zebo.
Benetton Treviso – A Esposito; C Loamanu, M Campagnaro, A Sgarbi, L Nitoglia; M Berquist, E Gori; R Barbieri, M Filippucci, M Vosawai, V Bernabò, A Pavanello capt, L Cittadini, G Maistri, A De Marchi. Reps: L Ghiraldini, M Muccignat, I Fernandez-Rouyet, M Fuser, C Van Zyl, L McLean, T Botes, J Ambrosini.
REF – Leighton Hodges (WRU)
MUNSTER V TREVISO,
LIVE, TG4, 7.15