MUNSTER skipper Paul O’Connell insisted defeat in Saturday’s Magners League final wasn’t an option, describing the 19-9 victory over Irish rivals Leinster as an essential boost to sign off on a season of mixed fortunes.
“It would have been a tough summer if we hadn’t won it, so it was very satisfying and to win it by scoring tries was great.”
He viewed the acquisition of silverware as absolutely crucial in helping his side recover from a disappointing European campaign and particularly from the negative effects of an Amlin Cup semi-final exit to Harlequins.
“That (game),” said O’Connell, “was very disappointing for us. “Sometimes you come out the wrong side of the result, but it’s how you perform and how you go about your business that worries you; that day was a bad day for us in terms of how we went about our business.
“Since then things have got a lot better; we have taken a bit more responsibility for ourselves as players. We have coaches with an incredible work-rate, but we have players who probably needed to drive it on a bit more, and that’s what we have probably done in recent weeks.”
Part of that success was due in part to the emergence of Danny Barnes and Conor Murray to fill starting positions at 13 and 9 respectively, and O’Connell believes the new breed of young player will help Munster going forward.
“I was lucky to come into a team in 2001/02 where that group of players created a culture where you expected to win every time. When I came into the team, I expected nothing less. Sometimes you maybe didn’t appreciate what the likes of Gaillimh (Mick Galwey), Claw (Peter Clohessy), Quinny (Alan Quinlan), Axel (Anthony Foley) and all these guys had to go through to create that.
“Maybe we’ve had a little taste of that in the last year or so. It’s great for those young guys coming into the team, and not just fulfilling their roles but being stand-out players; teams need that. Leinster have had, over the last number of years, young guys coming in and being stand out players and leaders in the team; now that’s what we have had over the last couple of weeks with these young lads.
“It’s brilliant for Irish rugby and it makes everyone better. It makes those perceived as No 1 or 2 better, because they see these hungry guys coming out of the academy in incredible physical shape and very well coached. It makes everyone better. Any coach would tell you that they want to have these tough decisions in every position and players want competition as well.”
That competition has been warmly received by some of the older brigade, said O’Connell, pointing to evergreen John Hayes and particularly to David Wallace, who was the stand-out back rower on the pitch.
“He’s incredible (Wallace),” said O’Connell, “Clearly he’s looking at these young guys coming through and it’s making him better. He played years ago for Garryowen in a massive game against Young Munster that I remember — to be here about 15 years later, still doing it and being probably one of the best players on the pitch is an incredible achievement.”
O’Connell felt the showpiece occasion was also a spectacle. “It (the match) was a very good thing for Irish rugby. We haven’t always been where we would like to have been over the last two years, but I think that Leinster and Munster have always made each other better, and we have made the Irish team better by driving up standards.
“Both sides showed a lot of leadership, and plenty skill. People talk about this being a good era for Ireland, and when you look at some of the young players coming through, you would be very confident for the future. It seemed to me to be a very tough, high standard match, with a lot of very good stuff at the breakdown in particular, which is so important. I’d say it was a very good advertisement for the Irish game and for the Magners League in general.”
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