Friday 19 January 2018

O'Connell closing in on new deal and relishing fresh Toulouse battle

Paul O'Connell, Munster, is tackled by Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh
Paul O'Connell, Munster, is tackled by Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Paul O'Connell kept the good news coming for Munster last night as he confirmed agreement is close on a new deal with the IRFU, which will keep him at the province.

After what he had just been a part of, sure why would he leave?

Much has been made of the province's transition in their season and a half under Rob Penney, but the sustained bout of fitness that the side's spiritual leader is now enjoying has helped smooth that progress.

For seven minutes Munster looked wobbly yesterday until O'Connell caught Ian Keatley's kick-off and kept on going. His team-mates followed, as they always do, James Coughlan scored a try and they never looked back.

One day, Munster will have to do all this without the totemic Ireland captain (34) and, while he has yet to put pen to paper on a new deal, it appears imminent.

"Hopefully, it's getting there," he said of the extension that would likely see him finish his career a one-club man.

With a first visit for Toulouse on the agenda after leading his country in the Six Nations, there is little reason to leave and, though the last home quarter-final at Thomond didn't go to plan when Ulster raided two years ago, they wouldn't swap it for the world.

"It's certainly better than having to go away," O'Connell said. "There's no doubt about that, but a team like Toulouse will have no fears of coming to us and like us they're a team that needs the big occasion to focus their minds.

"I'm sure they will be relishing coming to Thomond Park now. It won't be a bad one for us because it will certainly focus our minds as well.

"They're a real traditional team, a club with a traditional coaching staff, with old-school values, so there will be no better fixture to focus their minds than coming here."

UNWITTING

O'Connell played a central, if unwitting, role in what Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons described as a "major, major" turning point of the game -- Cornell du Preez sin-binning for an illegal clearout.

"I don't know whether there was a whole lot wrong with what he did but he hit me very hard, I got a stinger from it," said O'Connell of the moment that saw the Scots reduced to 14 men and Munster make their move with a third try through Conor Murray.

That propelled them on to three more tries and the confirmation of that prized home clash.

O'Connell was delighted with the progress shown and believes there is more to come.

"Over time, as a team you begin to trust one another more," he said. "People say we have been in transition but we're in transition for a long time now. I suppose the nucleus of the guys are there for two years and there is a bit more trust developing.

"It's a long way from the finished article. Perpignan away, it was great to get the win, but the performance was fairly poor and there have been a few of those this year.

"However, there have been a few really good ones this year and there have been times when we were really close to producing a display like that.

"The other thing is that Edinburgh, once they went behind, didn't have a lot to play for and you could lull yourself into a false sense of security that everything is great. At the same time it was a good performance.

"We attacked really well, we had a great mix to our game and I think we're at our best when we can get that, mauls, scrum, direct play and being able to go wide as well.

"When we have that mixture, and accuracy in our passing, we are a really good team."

Solomons, meanwhile, is well placed to judge the progress made in these parts. As Ulster coach in the early part of the last decade, he watched the genesis of the first Munster side to conquer Europe and he is impressed by what he sees now.

"Munster have evolved over many, many years and one must take nothing away from those great Munster sides with Ronan O'Gara at fly-half and Peter Stringer at scrum-half, they were fantastic teams and they played to their strengths," the South African said.

"Ronan is now retired and Keatley is a good player, but a different kind of player. I think what Rob is doing is playing to his strengths and the strengths of his team. They are playing some good football and they are a very, very good side.

"You can see the results of it, they have a home quarter-final in the Heineken Cup and they are topping the Pro12. He must be doing something right for sure.

"Their game is evolving and the evolution is coming about because of the personnel and the game is tailored to the personnel."

Irish Independent

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