O’Connell expects intense battle

PAUL O’CONNELL has guaranteed Magners League semi-final opponents Ospreys a high-intensity Munster performance when the Welshmen visit Thomond Park this Saturday.

Munster are still smarting from the Amlin Challenge Cup defeat at home to Harlequins nine days ago and having finished their Magners League regular season with a 22-6 defeat of Connacht on Friday night, the captain focused on their last shot at silverware this season.

“After last week we need to turn it around in the next three weeks and repay our supporters and the staff for all the work they’ve done,” O’Connell said at the Munster Rugby Awards in association with the Irish Examiner.

“Next week becomes a massive game for us. We’re at home again. Last week (against Harlequins) we were at home and we just didn’t produce the goods. Whatever about not playing well, we just didn’t produce the level of intensity and desire we want to play with and we can guarantee that will be there next Saturday.”

Munster face champions Ospreys for the fifth time this season, having each won their home Heineken Cup pool games, although the province did the double in their Magners League encounters.

O’Connell, however, dismissed any thoughts of a possible Munster-Leinster final on May 28.

“The way things are going for us we just have to look at the Ospreys and not beyond it. That has to be our biggest game of the year, treat that as our last game of the year and as if there’s nothing beyond it.”

Turning to this autumn’s World Cup, O’Connell said Ireland also had to take the same approach and learn the lessons of the ill-fated 2007 campaign.

“The last World Cup was a strange one and we came back two seasons later and won the Grand Slam by taking each game one at a time and making it the biggest game we could make it and not looking at anything beyond that.

“After we beat France in the first game the media started talking about Grand Slams but we just stayed on one game at a time mode and that’s what we need to do at this World Cup. I’d say we had ambitions beyond the group stages in 2007 but you just can’t take your eye off the ball. You have to make each game the biggest game you’re playing and just recover and get ready for the following week and that’s the attitude we’ll be taking.”

On a night when Alan Quinlan made perhaps his final appearance for Munster before retirement, the back rower received a further standing ovation at the awards before backing the squad to rebound from a disappointing European campaign.

“It’s been a wonderful journey and I’ll certainly be sad to let it go,” Quinlan said. “But I’ve had my time, there’s a couple of great young lads coming up in the back row and they’ll take their opportunity. It’s a tough time, there’s a lot of pressure and criticism but I’m very confident the team can bounce back and there can be great success again here.”


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