Monday 26 February 2018

O'Connell in mix as Reds prepare for 'Six Nations champions'

Paul O'Connell is back with the Munster squad after Ireland's Six Nations success
Paul O'Connell is back with the Munster squad after Ireland's Six Nations success

John Fallon

Irish captain Paul O'Connell has quickly put the glory of winning the Six Nations behind him and could feature for Munster this weekend when they resume their Pro12 campaign against Treviso.

The victorious skipper was pitchside yesterday for Munster's training session at University of Limerick and, with Munster coach Rob Penney cranking up the stakes ahead of his side's clash with Leinster on Saturday week by stating that it will be his side against "the Six Nations champions," the Reds are gearing up for a crucial few weeks.

They will take on Treviso at Thomond Park on Saturday before facing Leinster a week later in the Aviva Stadium. The following week they host Toulouse in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

And while the Irish squad bask in their championship win, the indications are that O'Connell will make himself available for duty against the Italians in preparation for the showdowns against Leinster and Toulouse.

Penney said that it was just typical of O'Connell that he would immerse himself back in the Munster fold so soon after leading his country to glory.

"He can't wait to be back in amongst it. He is captain of the group which has just won the Six Nations and he is back here on the first available training day with his club."

Scrum-half Conor Murray and Munster skipper Peter O'Mahony are not set to return until the Leinster match.

Munster are boosted by the return from injury of Keith Earls and hooker Damien Varley, with Penney stating that, while Earls could be the man to replace Brian O'Driscoll, he is likely to keep using him on the wing.

"He could do the job. There are a number of people who could do it. He would just need time there and an opportunity. I think he is still one of the best wings in the country. He will probably be filling that jersey for us more so than 13. He is capable, no doubt about it," he added.

Penney said that this weekend's clash with Treviso was the last chance for his men to stake claims for inclusion in the big ones against Leinster and Toulouse.

"Yeah, the guys on the cusp, the guys that are on the fringe of making the 23 for the bigger games coming up, certainly this is the opportunity that they have, the last one really."

Penney also expects a response from several players who lost out on Irish selection for the Six Nations, but added that whatever about Munster players using their exclusion as motivation, the large number of Leinster players in Joe Schmidt's squad will present its own challenge when they clash at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week.

"The Leinster boys have been working together and they have been battled-hardened over the past three months, preparing for internationals and winning an international tournament.

"I am loath to look beyond Treviso, but if we do and we just basically think about the ramifications of what has happened over the past three months, it is going to be Munster versus the Six Nations champions and a hardened Six Nations champions side and a quality side."

Irish Independent

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