Having made a remarkably quick recovery from a major operation on a bulging disc in his lower back, Paul O’Connell is not only confident about being part of the Munster team to play Harlequins in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup on April 7 but also hopeful he can also be part of the British and Irish Lions team to tour Australia in June.
The 2011 Lions skipper in South Africa made his return for Munster A on Tuesday and played 40 minutes of a competitive fixture. Now he believes he will be fully prepared and ready for the Harlequins game once he confirms his fitness in RaboDirect Pro12 games against Connacht and Glasgow Warriors.
While understandably reluctant to look beyond that, he doesn’t entirely dismiss his chances of making the Lions tour, although he did allow: “I don’t know about Australia but I do feel great now. I feel mentally fresh as well, which is something you don’t always feel at this time of year. I’ve had a long time off.”
That still doesn’t diminish Paul’s upset at missing Ireland’s entire Six Nations campaign even if, from an early stage of the season, he realised he had no chance of playing.
“Yeah, it has been very frustrating,” he admitted.
“If the team are doing well, you’re regretting that you’re missing it. When they’re doing badly, you’d love to be up there helping out. It’s been a very tough situation for all the team, for the senior players and the coaching staff.
“The injuries haven’t helped and there have been a few close calls as well. It’s been very tough. I thought they were very unlucky not to win at the weekend. They didn’t get what they deserved from that game. It’s been tough not being involved. It’s part of rugby, the same as doing weights and stuff. Being injured is all part of the game.
“I really enjoy playing with the young lads. I train with them all the time but they must wonder what I get paid for. It was great to play with them, I really enjoyed it.”
That being the case, there is still the possibility that Paul will gain more game time with his club Young Munster in Saturday’s Ulster Bank League clash with Cork Constitution at Clifford Park. Munster coach Rob Penney has no problem with that.
“It looks like Paul is on track for a little more footie in the next week or so,” he observed. “We’ll see what happens on the back of this game. 48 hours will be a big indicator and will determine his progress. I love the guys playing club rugby when they can. If it’s the right thing, it’s the right thing.”
Munster also welcomed back flanker Niall Ronan from a lengthy absence in the A game following two successful Ulster Bank League performances for Shannon
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