Munster coach Alan Gaffney named his side yesterday (Wed) after a rain-soaked training session at Thomond Park where O'Connell was noticeable for his enthusiasm in most trying conditions.
"It's great to be back and in proper nick. The surgery went well and recovery has been good because I gave it time and now I'm feeling better than I have been for a long time." he said." Last season I had this back problem but kept playing through it just hoping it would come right on its own. You tend to put off the inevitable but in the end I had to get the surgery and now I'm glad I did."
Back in the side for the first time since Cardiff and playing his first game since togging out for Ireland in Carisbrook, O'Connell is clearly focussed on what he has to do now. "I'm delighted to be getting back into the side so soon. Now I just want to concentrate on Friday's game and take it from there. With players like Donncha, Mick O'Driscoll and Gaillimh (Mick Galwey), I can take nothing for granted. I have to get in there, produce the goods and hope to cement my place in the side."
Gaffney was faced with contrasting options when deciding on his side for Friday. Up front he found himself spoiled for choice, in the backs it was a case of who was the fittest of the injured.
His options for second row were, Donncaha O'Callaghan, Mick O'Driscoll, Mick Galwey, Paul O'Connell and the rising talent, Trevor Horgan. In the back-row there was Jim Williams, Alan Quinlan, Anthony Foley, Denis Leamy and Eddie Halvey. But in the backs, John Kelly, Jeremy Staunton, Dominic Crotty, John O'Neill and Anthony Horgan (Rob Henderson) were not available to the Munster coach.
The competition rules allow Gaffney go outside the squad and ask for help from another provincial union. So he could have sought players from Leinster, for example, who are not involved. But, not surprisingly perhaps, that option was rejected and that being the case, Colm McMahon finds himself on the right wing, Killian Keane slots in at full-back while the replacement bench will make interesting reading when it's announced later in the week.
Munster. Killian Keane; Colm McMahon, Mike Mullins, Jason Holland, Mossie Lawler; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Frank Sheahan, John Hayes; Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan; Jim Williams,(capt) Alan Quinlan, Anthony Foley.