O’Connell returns to rally Munster teammates

Munster coach Rob Penney said Paul O’Connell had been floating around.

Less than 72 hours after leading Ireland to the RBS Six Nations title, Paul O’Connell was unofficially back in the Munster camp lending his considerable weight to planning procedures for the upcoming assault on Rabodirect Pro12 and Heineken Cup titles.

Munster head coach Rob Penney was happy O’Connell turned up to watch the training session at the University of Limerick yesterday: “Paul has been floating around,” said the coach when asked about the availability of the three Munster heroes from Paris last weekend, O’Connell, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony.

Surprised to see him? “You wouldn’t be, would you, knowing the man? 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, adding value as much as he can.”

Penney could even be tempted to give O’Connell some game time in Saturday’s Rabo clash with Benetton Treviso at Thomond Park although both his colleagues have been ruled out.

“A couple of the lads are certainly not available, we are just working through the selections but its more than likely that the three of them will be for next week (for the Leinster match).”

Although the coach would have preferred on one hand to see more Munster representation on the Irish squad, it might work in heir favour to have been able to largely keep a squad together and focused in pursuit of silverware.

“We have developed a really good group of young men here and can interchange them. We’re now getting to a point where the rubber is hitting the road and we have to put our best 23 forward in the coming weeks.”

He says he’s not looking beyond Treviso, but the Leinster game on Saturday week will act as an ideal warm-up for a Heineken cup-quarter final against Toulouse.

Would the fact that only three Munster men made Schmidt’s cut be motivation for Saturday week?: “Yep, there is that way of looking at it,” said Penney, “you would expect a response, but it only lasts for a short spell, In terms of being able to use it as a motivational force, you can only be bitter for so long.

“The other side of the coin is that the Leinster boys have been battled hardened over the past three months, preparing for internationals and winning an international tournament.”

Meanwhile, there is good news this week for Munster, with Damien Varley and Keith Earls back in rude health and likely to play Saturday or Saturday week at worst.

The injury crisis at hooker eased this week with the return to training of Niall Scannell. Quentin MacDonald, brought in to the squad on a short term contract from New Zealand, is also in the mix.

“He has acquitted himself well to date. He needs to get a run at some point,” said Penney.

Meanwhile Leinster welcomed back five of Ireland’s victorious Six Nations squad to training yesterday.

Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden, Martin Moore and Jordi Murphy were all on duty in UCD just three days after the 22-20 defeat of France in Paris.

The province returns to RaboDirect PRO12 duties on Friday with the visit to the RDS of Zebre, but Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin were rested for yesterday’s session due to what were described as minor shoulder and neck injuries.

The Leinster players who started in Paris will not return to duties until next Monday.

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