O’Connell is contracted to Munster and Ireland until June 2016 but the word in France is that the Ireland captain will join up with former Munster number eight James Coughlan and Simon Mannix, the province’s assistant coach for the past two seasons. Brian Walsh, who replaced Mannix in that role, sounded as surprised as anyone when speaking after Munster’s squad session at UL yesterday.
“I’m not aware of this story and I don’t believe there’s any truth in it”, said Walsh. “But whatever Paul O’Connell wants to do, Paul O’Connell will do and I don’t think Munster would ever stand in his way. He has been an unbelievable servant, himself and Donncha O’Callaghan, whether it will ever be replicated is doubtful. What they mean to the province and the provinces means to them, I don’t think we’ll ever see it again.”
O’Connell will be among a number of notable absentees from the Munster side to play the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade on Friday night. And there was also some disappointing news on the injury front with Keith Earls still a long way off recovery from a knee injury and unlikely to return before January.
Nor is there much chance of front-row men Damian Varley or James Cronin returning any time soon while long time absentees Donnacha Ryan, Cian Bohane and Mike Sherry are continuing with their rehab.
Furthermore, Barry O’Mahony had to be stretchered off during yesterday’s session with a leg injury and there is also uncertainty concerning hooker Kevin O’Byrne.
On a more positive note, Western Province centre Pat Howard trained yesterday as did Stephen Archer, who has been released back to Munster by the Irish management. The entire Munster camp was delighted with the outstanding contribution made by a number of team mates in Ireland’s victory over Georgia on Sunday.
“You’re obviously delighted for Dave Foley getting his first cap and being voted man of the match, Dave Kilcoyne, Robin Copeland off the bench as well”, said Brian Walsh.
“It’s super for all of them. You get a real positive out of the national side doing well and the competition for places happening at that level filters down to here. As much as winning matches for Munster means, guys want to represent a winning Irish side.”
Walsh spent some time with the Irish squad at Carton House last week and was delighted to have the opportunity to work with national coach Joe Schmidt and his assistants.
“To be fair, they are keen enough to get the coaches from the provinces up to make sure that we’re all buying in to what is going on and there’s a harmony in what we’re trying to do in the provinces”, said Walsh.
“It’s a bit of an open door which is great. It’s not a different game. The processes and the accuracy are better and the standard of player is at a higher level but it’s still the same game.
“If you’d asked me last year if I’d be doing this today, I’d probably have said no. So I just want to make the most of the opportunity and enjoy it. Not everybody gets the opportunity.”