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Paul O’Connell withdrawal hits luckless Munster

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Paul O'Connell has withdrawn from the Munster squad for personal reasons. Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

Paul O'Connell has withdrawn from the Munster squad for personal reasons. Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Paul O'Connell has withdrawn from the Munster squad for personal reasons. Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

Any more of this and Anthony Foley might be attempted to call in an exorcist.

From errant emails to lost passports and new signings who are injured even before they arrive in the country, yesterday Foley’s hopes of reining in Paul O’Connell to steady his listing squad were dashed at the 11th hour.

The momentous presence of O’Connell has been detained in Ireland for personal reasons ahead of tonight’s historically tricky endeavour against Treviso.

That many Munster supporters would have groaned when they heard the news reflects the sense of despair currently cloaking the side.

O’Connell shouldn’t have been required for a task such as this; nonetheless, the home reverse last week against Edinburgh, indicates the sense of unease that must lie within the camp. With tonight’s game not even televised, Munster’s league campaign has kicked off as if a mere rumour.

It has been a baptism of fire for Foley thus far, but he insists the correct messages are filtering through to his players.

Not everyone in Munster has been pressing the right buttons thanks to ‘email-gate’ but Foley (pictured) insists he and his coaches are.

“We’re trying to get our point across, there are obviously things to work on but the boys are getting used to this, the amount of scrutiny that’s going on, their eyes are wide open to it,” he admits.

“We got a shot across the bow before we even played last week so they’re working hard and I can’t say enough about them. They’re very supportive and enthusiastic in how they go about their work, it’s great to see and great to be a part of.”

While that is all fluffy and nice for supporters to swallow, what they really want to get their teeth into is the prospect of their team translating the unseen footage into some sense of reality on the field.

“People only see what happened in the 80 minutes and people judge you on that,” says Foley, with last week’s stinging home defeat to Edinburgh still fresh in the memory.

“That’s what’s so annoying, what is so frustrating for us. That’s what our week’s work looks like to the general public. That doesn’t sit well, because we had been going well enough to win that game.”

As a result, Foley has made sweeping changes to the team this week, eight in all, and featuring Felix Jones as a quirky choice as captain from full-back.

The entire front-row, plus Dave Foley, Tommy O’Donnell and Robin Copeland make their seasonal bows.

Duncan Williams and Ian Keatley at half-back are the only unchanged combination as centre Ivan Dineen shifts Andrew Smith to outside channel for this weekend’s clash.

In the back three, Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway retain their places on the left and right wings respectively alongside returning international full-back Jones.

On the bench, front-row back-up is provided by John Ryan, Kevin O’Byrne and BJ Botha, with Donncha O’Callaghan and Sean Dougall completing the complement of forwards in the match-day squad. Cathal Sheridan and Johnny Holland provide cover at half-back, while Ronan O’Mahony is also on hand for backline cover.

“It’s a tough fixture,” Foley says, alluding to a run of six games between the sides in recent times which have seen the results shared.

“It’s a fixture that has not been very good to us over the last couple of seasons and one we are conscious of treating properly. We’ve made sure we got over there nice and early to get into game mode and to make sure we perform.”

Control

There has been much discussion about the differences in style that may not pertain once the ‘indigenous’ coaching regime have managed to wrestle back control of the franchise from ‘foreign’ influence.

Much of that chat  is fatuous; Munster supporters just want to support a winning franchise; stylistic concerns can be parsed afterwards.

“We’re doing some things differently,” according to Foley as he assesses the premature evidence from the current season.

“Some aspects will remain the same, we’ve a different focus on how we want to go about it.

“We want to play with a bit more tempo. I don’t know if anyone had the time on how long the Edinburgh game took from start to finish, but it was very stop-start.

“We want to play with tempo in our game and take the game to the opposition. We need to control that, but in terms of going wide-wide as we did in the last few years, there’ll be an element of that, but it’s not the sole thing we’re going about doing.”

Against Treviso, who have lost four on the trot, the substance of a win will mean more than any style for Foley and his men.

Verdict: Munster

Benetton Treviso S Ragusi; L Nitoglia, L Morisi, S Christie, M Campagnaro; J Carlisle, H Seniloli; M Muccignat, D Giazzon, R Harden, M Fuser, C Van Zyl (capt), M Swanpoel, T Vallejos Cinalli, M Luamanu.  Reps: G Maistri, M Zanusso, S Manu, M Lazzaroni, M Barbini, A Sgarbi, A Esposito, J Ambrosini

Munster F Jones (capt); A Conway, A Smith, I Dineen, S Zebo; I Keatley, Duncan Williams; J Cronin, D Casey, S Archer, D Foley, B Holland; CJ Stander, T O’Donnell, R Copeland.  Reps: K O’Byrne, J Ryan, BJ Botha, D O’Callaghan, S Dougall, C Sheridan, J Holland, R O’Mahony.

Ref – C Damasco (FIR).

Online Editors