TOMÁS O’LEARY admitted on Saturday night that he is “a stronger player and person” after he returned from the horror injury which destroyed his Lions dream.
The Ireland and Munster scrum-half suffered a broken ankle against the same opposition at Musgrave Park in Cork back in April. Early signs suggested the influential Grand Slam winner would be out of action until December but O’Leary defied the medics and came off the replacement bench in a thrilling Magners League victory.
O’Leary, 25, said: “I’m delighted to be back and it’s a great honour to be playing for Munster again.
“I suppose through any adversity you come back stronger. Hopefully it has made me a stronger player and person.
“I realise you will get your fair share of injuries through a rugby career. Some players are lucky to go throughout their career without a major injury and some people aren’t. It’s part and parcel of the game. But I am appreciating my rugby more now and I’m determined to succeed in my career.”
And a relaxed O’Leary did not waste any time in sending a message to Munster scrum-half rival Toby Morland by outlining his immediate goals. Kiwi Morland has impressed since joining in the summer on a six-month deal from the Chiefs but the number nine has set his sights on nailing down his first start against Newport Gwent Dragons at Thomond Park on Sunday.
O’Leary said: “I want to be challenging for a starting spot next week. Obviously the Lions players are also returning so there will be stiff competition for places.
“Toby is a great little player and I’m sure the extra competition will bring the best out of the rest of us and make everyone train harder. It’s great. We’ve got three top class scrum-halves with Peter Stringer too but we just have to look at other positions throughout the squad, especially in the pack.
“We’ve three or four players fighting for every position and that’s no different to number nine. This is definitely the strongest Munster squad I’ve been involved in.
“Of course, I hope to be starting but if I’m not starting, I want to make an impact off the bench.”
Morland was heavily involved once again with a crucial second-half strike as the Red Army clinched a dramatic yet unlikely victory in Llanelli. Tony McGahan’s men trailed 20-15 as the game entered the 83rd minute of a pulsating and action-packed contest but wing Denis Hurley burst through for his second try to tie the scores before fly-half Jeremy Manning’s conversion grabbed victory.
Although, delighted with a winning return, O’Leary admitted he was just thrilled to be back on the field.
O’Leary beamed: “The ankle felt good and I wasn’t thinking about it when I was playing – that’s a good sign. I’ve waited a long time and worked hard to comeback but I was glad to get through the last 10 or 15 minutes of a game.
“I have been wary about the injury in training over the last few weeks but once you’re on the field, the game takes your mind off it. I put in a few hits and there were no problems. I never thought I wouldn’t make a return. The first few weeks were tough but the surgeons and physios in the USA and at Munster have been great. Hopefully playing will give me some more confidence.”
O’Leary’s return to competitive action will be a huge boost to Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
But the eight-cap star insists he can’t afford to even contemplate looking towards the home autumn series clashes with Australia, Fiji and South Africa.
O’Leary said: “I can’t even look at Ireland just yet. The reason I’ve worked so hard is to get back in contention with Munster and that’s my first goal. Hopefully if I can do that and play well regularly for Munster, I hope that will lead me towards Ireland. I’m just concentrating on getting back with Munster and the rest will take care of itself.”
Scorers for Scarlets: Tries: Manu 35, Jones 46; Cons: Priestland (2); Pens: Priestland, Evans.
Scorers for Munster: Tries: Hurley 25, Morland 56, Hurley 82; Cons: Manning (2); Pens: Manning.
SCARLETS: D Evans; S Lamont, G Maule, J Davies, M Jones (capt), R Priestland, M Roberts; I Thomas (P John 55), K Owens, D Manu, L Reed (V Cooper 55), D Day, S Easterby, D Lyons, D Jones (R Pugh 55). Replacements: E Phillips, L Williams, D Newton, R Higgitt.
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett, B Murphy (T Gleeson 72), L Mafi, D Hurley; J Manning, T Morland (T O’Leary 65); J Brugnaut (T Buckley 47), D Varley (D Fogarty 58), J Hayes; D Ryan, M O’Driscoll (capt); A Quinlan, D Leamy, N Ronan (T O’Donnell 40).
Replacements: B Holland, S Deasy
Yellow Card: Leamy 10, Ryan 32.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).
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