O'Connell's shock red leaves him open to Six Nations ban
Paul O'Connell is in danger of missing the start of the Six Nations after being red-carded just 10 minutes into his Heineken Cup comeback when he was spotted by assistant referee David Rose swinging his right elbow into the face of Jonathan Thomas as he held him back.
O'Connell could receive a suspension ranging from two weeks on the lower scale to five weeks on the middle scale under the IRB's globally recommended sanctions as deployed by the ERC.
However, the severest sanctions range from nine weeks upwards -- which could threaten his entire Six Nations participation, albeit the immediate red-card sanction, O'Connell's disciplinary record and the nature of the offence makes it more likely that he will receive a lower-to-mid-range ban.
"Firstly, I think it's true to say that Paul O'Connell is not a dirty player by any stretch of the imagination," said Ospreys assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys. "It's a very similar thing that happened to Gavin Henson and unfortunately he got 16 weeks for an offence like that.
"We play against Paul a lot. We've got a lot of admiration for him as a player, he's a very iconic figure here, so it's disappointing for him that he could miss a large chunk of the season now.
"Jonathan was a little unsure of himself, he had a bit of a knock to the head there. It was something we were possibly thinking of doing throughout that period but he couldn't carry on because he was unfit to carry on."
Munster coach Tony McGahan admitted he was shocked by the sending-off -- "I was hoping I was colour blind!" -- and revealed that he hadn't spoken to his captain because he had to let him "cool down".
"We only had a brief look at it. We really haven't looked at it in depth enough to give any real comment. I suppose we saw what everyone else saw, a holding onto the jersey, a reaction towards that. We'll have to give a bit more thought to that, but I suppose you have a quick glance at those things and then we needed to move on. It couldn't serve any purpose for us to get caught up in that while the game was going on."
Asked if he was worried about a lengthy ban, McGahan responded: "Absolutely, so again we'll have to let that process take (its) course and we'll abide by whatever decision is given."
O'Connell's second-row colleague Mick O'Driscoll said he did not see the incident. "I asked one of the lads on the bench what happened and they said it was nothing, Paulie just threw his hands in the air. That was all I heard. I didn't see any misdemeanours and as a second-row buddy, I'll stick with him.
"The ref saw an incident and he dealt with it the way he did. It's up to powers above me to sort it out. I can't comment on it because I didn't see it."
O'Connell's recklessness wasn't the only pall cast over the afternoon with the referee's abysmal officiating of the scrums, culminating in a crucial binning for Ospreys loose-head Paul James, also pricking the ears of Humphreys, who targeted Munster tight-heads Tony Buckley and John Hayes for criticism.
"I've got to raise why Paul James got yellow-carded on such a crucial area. I felt we were the dominant scrum out there and I have a big thing that referees need to referee tight-heads. They have to and it's very simple. If he doesn't stay square then it's a penalty against him.
"Now, we go into this game knowing that Munster have two tight-heads who do not scrummage square and he started the game refereeing that and then all of a sudden out of the blue, Paul James gets yellow-carded. I'd like to know what the thinking or the reasoning behind that was.
"It's very difficult to get tight-heads scrummaging square. It takes a bit of technical coaching and a bit of experience to do that. But, if they referee that, because everybody has to push square, that's what the rule says.
"If somebody is not pushing square then that is an infringement and please referee that infringement. I'm well open for people to do that to us and I actively ask for that, but I expect the opposition to be done the same."
For his part, McGahan was irked by the fact that referee Christophe Berdos approached his side in reference to a piece on the breakdown recorded by Sky Sports' 'The Rugby Club' during the week.
"We'd be a little bit disappointed that something like that was shown on a Thursday night pre-game," he said. "When you're showing clips of an attacking side in the green zone, there's a lot of people off their feet, but as long you're attacking and you're looking to clean out someone and you work to regain your feet, that's fine.
"To show comparative clips from a side with a non-committal defence like London Irish, 50 metres from the try-line, running into two tacklers and the tacklers off their feet, I think they're different ends of the spectrum."