12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
Having helped end Munster's wait for Heineken Cup glory, towering lock Paul O'Connell believes Ireland could be on the verge of "something special" on their summer tour Down Under.
O'Connell could be forgiven for wanting to rest up after a gruelling Heineken Cup campaign which ended with him nursing a right ankle injury, but the 26-year-old - a starter for the British & Irish Lions in last summer's three Tests against New Zealand - has his sights firmly set on an historic win over the All Blacks.
Ireland's first assignment on their three-match summer tour is a clash against New Zealand in Hamilton on Saturday week - the second Test follows a week later in Auckland - and O'Connell, who was recently voted the Irish Rugby Supporters Club Player of the Season, is leaving Munster's on-going celebrations at home.
He said: "We won the Heineken Cup - we'd been trying so long to win it - so a lot of us did enjoy it for two or three days. It's gas you'd almost think we'd have the week off but we were back in the gym last Thursday and Friday and there were loads of guys in there already.
"Guys were back training Thursday afternoon, Friday, we trained over the weekend - some guys played matches (in the Celtic League) over the weekend and we were in again on Monday.
"I think the (Munster) supporters are loving it. They're dining out on the Heineken Cup win at the moment and probably will for the rest of the summer but the players have moved on a bit now," he told TV3.
In camp with the Irish squad in Limerick since last Sunday, the 33-times capped O'Connell agrees that Ireland will travel south to New Zealand on a high.
"The mood in the camp is excellent. Going away to places like New Zealand is all about confidence and our confidence is very high at the moment. Obviously we won the Heineken Cup, Ulster won the Celtic League, Leinster played probably the best rugby of the season when they beat Toulouse over in France - so the mood in the camp is good, we're confident and that's the main thing you need over there.
"Sometimes when you go to play New Zealand you can be beaten before a ball is kicked so we need to go over there in a confident mood."
...O'Connell receiving his Supporters Club Player of the Season award from Rachel Ryan...
O'Connell, whose second start for Ireland came on the 2002 summer tour to New Zealand, knows just how difficult a task it will be for Eddie O'Sullivan's men to garner a first ever victory over the All Blacks.
One of the few players to emerge from last year's ill-fated Lions tour with his reputation intact, he admitted: "On the Lions tour we all knew what the support was going to be like over there and that was part and parcel of it. We were ready for it and as intense as them, but I think we just didn't produce our best form.
"Sometimes when you play other teams other than New Zealand, you can play below your best, you can work your way through a game and pull out a result. You just can't do that against New Zealand.
"We need 22 guys over there who are going to produce their best form whenever we take the pitch against them. You have to produce your best against New Zealand to stand any chance, and we just didn't do that with the Lions. Hopefully we can do it for the first Test in Hamilton."
Like captain Brian O'Driscoll, O'Connell missed the All Blacks' visit to Dublin last November due to injury. A damaged wrist prevented O'Connell from lining out in the autumn Tests. Comprehensively beaten 45-7 by Graham Henry's side at Lansdowne Road, the Irish will venture south on something of a revenge mission.
O'Connell added: "The squad that played against New Zealand in the autumn - there's a big difference between that squad and the squad that's going over there now.
"The confidence is very high now. Guys are back from injury and there's a great chance and a great belief in the squad that we can do something special on this tour."