There may be a new wave sweeping through Munster but the province yesterday showed it also values experience by agreeing a new contract with veteran lock Donncha O’Callaghan.
As head coach Rob Penney challenged his developing squad to maintain Munster’s league title challenge in the absence of its Ireland Test contingent throughout November, 34-year-old O’Callaghan put pen to paper on a two-year provincial deal which will keep him with his home team until 2016 following the expiry of his IRFU contract at the end of the season.
The new terms mean O’Callaghan, who helped Munster retain top spot in the RaboDirect Pro12 in Saturday’s 12-6 victory over Ospreys, has the opportunity to surpass Ronan O’Gara’s Munster appearance record of 240 matches.
Currently with the Ireland squad preparing for Saturday’s Test against Samoa, the Ospreys game was his 230th Munster appearance in 16 seasons, 90 of them in the Heineken Cup, and the new deal comes quickly on the heels of a public declaration of his desire to remain a one-club man.
“I love playing for this team and representing my home club and supporters each week,” O’Callaghan said yesterday. “Running out for Munster is something I’ve always wanted and I’ve been fortunate to make my career out of it, and to continue doing so for the next few years is just what I want. The main thing for me is that I still enjoy it and I have the opportunity to do it.”
Penney on Saturday described O’Callaghan as “a war horse for this organisation” and revealed the 94-capped Irish international had asked national head coach Joe Schmidt to be released last weekend to face Ospreys when he had been called into camp as injury cover for long-time team-mate Paul O’Connell.
“We are lucky to have someone of Donncha’s calibre and experience commit his future to Munster Rugby,” Penney said. “He is great with the younger lads and drives everyone on. His own dedication and work ethic are an example to all and it’s good to know he is on board for another two seasons.”
Penney’s more immediate issues are keeping Munster top of the Pro12 as he prepares for back-to-back away games at Cardiff on November 23 and six days later in Newport against the Dragons.
Munster’s hard-fought win over Ospreys was their sixth in seven league matches this season and all the more satisfying for the New Zealander as it was achieved without key frontline players, something his players will have to repeat at the end of the month in Wales.
“That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Accumulating points through this part of the season is critical. And it was difficult for us last year. It’s easy to use the excuse that you lose so many capped players with a truckload of experience who on the wet nights know how to win a game for you.
“We didn’t really have that last year. We had a lot of passion, a lot of desire, a lot of boys trying really hard but didn’t have the game management ability. We’ve had a couple of wins now on the back of some tough old battles, so that is going to be a great well for us to go to.
“And there is no doubt Cardiff away, Dragons away, are going to be bloody tough, as we saw last (Friday) night against Leinster with the Dragons.
“They haven’t had a great deal of success but they’re a tough unit, at home more so. So the next couple of weeks when we get back are really, really difficult and the challenge for our group is to try to force their way, through performances, into the forefront of our thinking in the picking of the ERC team. Because that’s the road to their goals, which is international rugby. So that’s what we’re challenging them with, to make sure they make those jobs really difficult for us.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved