Sport Rugby

Sunday 25 February 2018

O'Connell driven by dreams of Wembley

Paul O'Connell.
Paul O'Connell.

Declan Rooney

Munster skipper Paul O'Connell is hopeful of fulfilling a dream later this year by playing at Wembley, but for now he has more pressing problems to contend with after revealing his knee injury is taking longer than expected to heal.

Munster's Heineken Cup pool will take them to Stade de France to play Racing Metro 92 in October and to Murrayfield to face Edinburgh in January, but in between O'Connell hopes to make his debut at Wembley.

Saracens, who will play their opening game against Racing Metro at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels as they await completion of their new ground in north London, have confirmed the Munster game will take place in the British capital, with Wembley a strong contender to host the clash.

"I think there are a few options, but if we were to go to Wembley it would be incredible. I have never played there; I have never been there," said O'Connell.

"It's going to be a really interesting time. They are a club like no other at the moment. With an incredibly massive budget, they seem to be running at a big loss at the moment, but they're not too bothered by it.

"It's a really tough challenge to play them back-to-back. It's a challenge our players will relish."

But of more immediate concern is O'Connell's battle to be fit for the start of the new season, as he works to recover from a medial knee ligament injury, and he admitted he is still a bit behind schedule in his recovery.

chance

"I thought I'd be further down the track than I am now. I thought I might have had a chance of playing in New Zealand," said the 32-year-old second-row.

"But when I didn't go I thought, 'surely I'll be back and ready for the start of pre-season.' Unfortunately I wasn't. I am back doing running now this last week and a half and hope to be back fully into it at the end of this week.

"I just want to get this right and get some really hard training done and see where I am. I have plenty of weights done and plenty of skills done, but I haven't got the running, the hard slog, done like some of the boys. Hopefully next week, I can get into that." While O'Connell was pumping iron, he was also a frustrated armchair viewer of his Irish team-mates on their unsuccessful trip to New Zealand.

While he would have loved to have been there to help them across the line in their narrow defeat in the second Test, missing the third game galled him particularly.

"It was funny, more so in the third Test (Ireland lost 60-0), I wanted to be there because it felt like I had let them down by not being there," said O'Connell, who was in Adare Manor yesterday launching the new adidas Munster alternative jersey. "I have been in dressing-rooms like that before and they are a fairly tough place. I'd have liked to have been down there with the lads. I'd say they were devastated."

Finishing last season empty-handed with Munster was also difficult for O'Connell, but he thinks the arrival of new coach Rob Penney has injected some positivity into the camp.

"Rob came in with Simon Mannix a few weeks ago and they have been a breath of fresh air. It has been really good, really positive. He is an interesting guy who has interesting ideas about the game," added O'Connell.

Irish Independent

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