Paul O’Connell believes the return to action of Donnacha Ryan to the Munster pack can reap dividends for his province in the the run-in to the Guinness Pro12 semi- finals and also for Ireland.
The Ireland captain, capped 101 times at lock, is currently weighing his options about whether to retire after the 2015 World Cup this autumn or continue through to the end of his contract in June 2016. Yet he believes when the time does come to hang up his boots, both the Munster and Irish second rows he has served with distinction for 13 seasons will be in safe hands.
“I think second-row in Ireland is in a great position,” adidas ambassador O’Connell said. “It’s been great in recent weeks in Munster to see Donnacha Ryan come back, he’s a great player with a phenomenal engine and I did fitness training with him yesterday and it’s hard to believe he didn’t run for 10-12 months. He’s in incredible condition.
“Same with Ireland, Devin Toner’s probably one of Ireland’s most consistent performers at the moment so we’re in a good place for second rows in Ireland.”
O’Connell, 35, will lead the well-fancied back-to-back RBS 6 Nations champions into the World Cup this September with bitter memories of the last time Ireland went into the tournament with such high hopes, in France 2007.
Having admitted he and many others overtrained before the competition got under way and then paid the price with a series of desperately disappointing performances, O’Connell said he was optimistic he and the Ireland management, including strength and conditioning coach Jason Cowman, would have no problem convincing younger members of the squad not to repeat the mistakes their predecessors had made eight years ago.
“Hopefully, with the benefit of experience, they won’t have to find out themselves. I know Jason Cowman is very strict with people and he never assumes people know what they are doing. He tells them what they are doing and then he goes around and makes sure that they do what they are told to do as well. I’m sure it is something that will be said. It’s a good position to be in, the fear of guys overtraining rather than the other way around.”
The Six Nations player of the championship, who is hopeful of recovering from minor shoulder injury in time to face Ulster in Ravenhill tomorrow week in the penultimate round of the Pro12, conceded that knowing when to rest, and rest properly, was as crucial as getting the training side of the equation right.
“That has probably been the thing for me being out of the Champions Cup and not playing with my shoulder last week, it’s been four weekends where you are not preparing for a game, you are not doing lineout analysis, defence analysis, you’re not getting to Thursday or Friday and you’re feeling tired and you’re convincing yourself you’re not tired.
“That’s the big thing about taking those down weeks and those weeks when we’re in camp with Joe (Schmidt), the players are put under a lot of pressure to learn to be prepared.
“Taking that half-day on Wednesday and making sure you switch off is just as important as the day you’re in the gym or the day you’re on the pitch.”
Significantly, O’Connell said he was relishing his time with his province as much as ever, and that his decision to retire would not rest on whether Munster lifted the Pro12 trophy at the end of this month.
“It wouldn’t be a factor in my decision at all, I’m enjoying my time at Munster as much now, if not more than I did when we won the Heineken Cups in 2006 and 2008.
“If winning trophies was the reason to keep playing or stop playing, there’d be a lot of people would stop playing. There’s only a certain amount of people pick up medals at the end of the season... to me it doesn’t make a difference to the decision.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved