O'Connell not ready to make return for Munster in Paris
Paul O'Connell may have been ever-present for Munster in their Heineken Cup campaign last season but mystery still surrounds when he will play again.
New coach Rob Penney has insisted since he took over in the summer that he will leave it to O'Connell to declare when he is ready to return from a knee injury picked up in May.
It is extremely unlikely that O'Connell will be sprung for the trip to Paris this weekend when Munster begin their Heineken Cup campaign against Racing Metro in Stade de France. "He is under no pressure and we are under no pressure to get him right. He is just going to let us know when he is ready to go and we'll react to that. He'll be ready when he is ready," Penney has said.
The medial knee ligament injury ruled him out of Ireland's tour to New Zealand but a timeline for his return did not emerge.
O'Connell worked hard during the close season to regain fitness and at the launch of the Pro12 in mid-August he was confident that his return was imminent.
"I thought I'd be further down the track that I am now," he admitted at the time. "I have plenty of weights done and plenty of skills done, but I haven't got the running, the hard slog done like some.
"I'd love to have five weeks of hard labour under my belt to really set me up going forward for the rest of the year.
"I just want to get this right and get some really hard training done and see where I am," he said at the time.
Since then O'Connell, Penney and Munster have been taking it week by week but it is now over five months since he has played.
Munster assemble in Cork tomorrow for their first squad session since the 30-21 loss to Leinster. There are injury doubts over Donncha O'Callaghan and Neil Ronan and further casualties could be an influencing factor on when O'Connell returns.
Penney is downplaying the importance of Saturday's match, dismissing suggestions that it will define Munster's season.
"To say that it defines our season, or the next two weeks even defines our season I think is a bit harsh, bit short-sighted, given that we've some lads that are new to this.
"I think our ability to produce good performances on a consistent basis, and when we've got a foot on the throat, to be able to nail the opportunities that are presented to us is not happening at the moment," he said.