Clermont see red over O'Connell
ON a day that Rob Penney claimed Joe Schmidt might have engaged in some "gamesmanship" over the Paul O'Connell controversy, Clermont coach Vern Cotter expressed disbelief at the decision not to cite the Munster lock for his kick to Dave Kearney's head.
Ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final with Munster, Cotter lobbed a small incendiary device into the build-up to the big game by saying he was stunned that O'Connell had not faced a citing.
The Clermont supremo said the failure to bring a case against O'Connell put serious question marks over the whole disciplinary process.
"Yeah, I was surprised. I think all of us in the rugby world were a little surprised when nothing more came of it," said the Kiwi, who guided Clermont to their only French Top 14 title three years ago.
"But the decision has been made, we are not dwelling on it. We are moving forward and we know he is on the team opposite us and we will try and counter him. We will try get our game in place and get him puffing a bit."
Cotter, speaking at a press conference at Stade Marcel Michelin, said he does not know if the incident would be handled differently in the Top 14.
"I don't know. The decision has been made and it's conjecture now. We have to get on with the job. we have just got to try and do our best and play our game."
Back in Cork, O'Connell revealed that he had apologised to Kearney over the controversial incident, but his coach again went out of his way to defend his player – firing a broadside at his Leinster counterpart.
While Penney was at pains to acknowledge Schmidt's legitimate concerns for the health of Kearney, he hit back at the claims that O'Connell's actions in Thomond Park had somehow "damaged" the game of rugby.
"Hopefully, they (Leinster) feel under a bit of heat now because Munster are on the rise and he's trying to direct some ammunition back this way to put pressure on alternative areas outside of the game itself," suggested Penney.
"There might be a bit of gamesmanship, too, intertwined with some real concern and thoughtfulness around his player and his need to support him, which I can understand."
While Schmidt had emphasised that he was being critical of the system and not O'Connell, the Leinster coach did suggest that the game of rugby as an entity may have been damaged.
"When those sort of things happen, you have to look at kids and the global game and it has been damaged when I see that and people see that," Schmidt said last week during his hard-hitting comments on a lack of citing. But, Penney took issue with that comment.
"I think there was a reference to people outside of rugby watching that," said the Munster boss.
"Look, Paulie has probably done more for the game in Ireland than anybody. For the young kids who are now loving the game, it's on the back of a lot of what he's done.
"So, I was sort of a wee bit taken aback by just that one reference asking did it put people off the game.
"Paul is a guy who does an awful lot around the community and for people in the wider community, people in hospital and young people with illnesses and so forth. It's just unheralded really how much he gives of himself."
Penney went on to sympathise with Kearney and expressed his wish that the player makes a speedy return to the playing field.
Clermont, meanwhile, have received a big boost after Australian Brock James returned to training and he will be in the squad for the clash against the Reds in Montpellier.
However, the French kingpins are sweating on the availability of their skipper Aurelien Rougerie, who suffered a thigh injury in the weekend success over Toulouse which secured a semi-final spot in the Top14.