Tournament bosses confirmed yesterday O’Connell would not face any sanction and will be free to play in the province’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne on April 27.
It is understood that in reviewing footage of the 62nd-minute incident, the Munster lock’s actions were considered “careless, but not intentional and not an insidious act of foul play and therefore not a red card offence”.
The replays also showed that O’Connell’s shin made contact with Kearney’s head but, crucially, his foot also contacted the ball. Kearney required treatment on the field before being removed from the pitch on a stretcher and his participation in the province’s Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final remains in doubt.
But Penney yesterday said there was no malice or intent on O’Connell’s part. Penney said: “It was one of those incidents. Footie is a dynamic game and you know from our perspective there is absolutely nothing to answer for.”
Penney, in acknowledging the injury to Kearney was disturbing, and wishing the player well, said: “You slow things down and you look in real detail and they always look worse but this is one of those ones where there is nothing really to be concerned about [from O’Connell’s point of view].”
Meanwhile, a Pro12 spokesperson explained it was not unusual for an Irish official to act as Independent Citing Commissioner in a game featuring an Irish province. Connacht’s Eddie Walsh had the role at Thomond Park on Saturday night.
The spokesperson said: “The rules and regulations are that the Independent Citing Commissioner is appointed by the host nation union. So in the case of Saturday night’s game between Munster and Leinster, it was the responsibility of the IRFU. And that would be the case for any of the Rabo games being played in Ireland. If the game was in Wales it would be the WRU, or the SRU in Scotland.
“The Commissioner has 48 hours in which to make any decision in terms of whether to cite or not. As he did not take any action on this occasion the matter is now closed as far as we are concerned.”
Meanwhile, Brian Moore has called for O’Connell to be handed the Lions captaincy by coach Warren Gatland.
Moore, who twice toured with the Lions, insisted: “O’Connell’s form for Munster has been nothing short of remarkable given the length of time he has been out of the game recently. It would, in my opinion, have been worth taking him had he just been fit and his form indifferent. Fortunately that accommodation is not necessary given the way in which he dominated the set-piece and was massively influential at the breakdown for the whole of Muster’s Heineken Cup win over Harlequins. The Irishman’s case is also strengthened by a general rule which I know to be a sound one — Lions tours are not for inexperienced players.”
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Moore added: “Now that O’Connell is both fit and on form this leads me to alter my choice for the Lions’ captaincy from Brian O’Driscoll to the Munster man. This is...because of one thing I strongly believe — of players of equal qualification to lead a team, forwards make better captains. He has unfinished business after the narrow 2-1 series defeat to the Springboks four years ago, too. If Gatland gives him the chance, I have a feeling the Lions will go one better this summer.”