Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations title defence may be looming large on the horizon but, before that, a well-rested Paul O’Connell has three important matches ahead with Munster, starting with Sunday’s Magners League clash with the Scarlets. We got his thoughts on a number of topics.
ON BEING RESTED OVER THE FESTIVE PERIOD, SITTING OUT THE CONNACHT AND ULSTER GAMES:
Yeah, it was good. I took the week off before Christmas and I did a little bit of training last week. I enjoyed it.
The big thing is that you don’t have games to prepare for so you get as much of a mental rest as you do a physical one.
You’re not building yourself up for a game, you can just really let yourself unwind.
ON THE COACHES DEALING WITH LOSING PLAYERS:
For us, it is hard (being rested) because we had built up a bit of momentum and you lose that, so it is disappointing from that point of view but it’s out of the hands of the players.
It’s time off we’re given and we make the most of it, but I’m sure it’s frustrating from the coaches’ point of view.
ON THE BENEFITS OF BEING RESTED AT DIFFERENT PERIODS:
You do benefit, I suppose. But we played right through the Magners League last season too and we performed quite well in both the latter stages of the Heineken Cup and the Six Nations, so there are two sides to it.
ON GETTING BACK THE MOMENTUM SHOWN AGAINST PERPIGNAN:
I hope we get it back quickly. I think the thing with that match was that it was the first time our forwards had really played together as a unit all season because we haven’t all been fit this season.
(John) Hayes was back from his bit of time off, I was injured at the start of year, Wally (David Wallace) has had a few injuries, Jerry (Flannery) has been injured and Wian (du Preez) is only getting a run of games now.
For a lot of guys that Perpignan game was the first time as a pack of forwards that we were really all match fit together as an eight.
I wouldn’t say the two weeks off won’t really set us back all that much, but it does give us extra work to do again.
ON PERPIGNAN BEING MUNSTER’S BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:
Yeah, it probably was. We did our basics very well – our kicking game was good, our set piece was very good and our stuff at the breakdown was very good. When you put the three of those together you generally do very well.
I think it had been coming for a while. The match fitness for the forwards was the big thing for me – I don’t think we’d been playing with eight match fit forwards until that match.
We were really match fit against Perpignan and we were really able to up the intensity of what we were doing.
I know we conceded three soft tries against Perpignan at home, but I felt that we dominated them but things just didn’t come off.
A few bounces of the ball went our way in the away match against Perpignan that hadn’t been going our way earlier in the season and when that happens and you’re playing well and the confidence is there then you get results like
ON THE MINDSET CHANGING AT THIS TIME OF YEAR:
Does the mindset change? Maybe subconsciously it does. It’s the most important time of the season for qualification from your group in the Heineken Cup, so every team in with a chance of qualifying ups their performance and we’re no different.
As well as that, selection for the Six Nations is on the cards too and that plays a big part in how guys perform as well.
It is a great time of the year to be a Munster player and be in the team when you have big matches like this coming up, especially with an English club (Northampton) coming for the last match of the group stage. It’s a really exciting time to be involved.
ON WHETHER THE MOOD IN THE CAMP CHANGES:
I think guys enjoyed their time off and made sure they really relaxed because they knew that these next three weeks were going to be really tough, because there’s a big pressure and a big focus on every performance.
Today (Wednesday) wasn’t ideal because we couldn’t train on the grass – we had to train on the all-weather pitch out the back (at UL). Definitely guys were happy to be back in and looking forward to the next three weeks.
ON IT BEING DISAPPOINTING TO HAVE TRAINING AFFECTED BY THE WEATHER:
Today would have been a quite important day for us because there’s an eight-day turnaround from last week’s game to this weekend’s game.
We had planned to get a lot of work done today, the sort of work you don’t want to be doing during the weeks of big matches like Treviso and Northampton.
So not getting out on the grass isn’t ideal, but that’s the way it is. We’ll take the positives from it – it keeps old guys like Quinny (Alan Quinlan) here fresher for the next few weeks!
ON THE SCARLETS TIE BEING AN IMPORTANT MATCH:
It’s important to us in every way. It’s a home match first and foremost and from a Magners League point of view and us making the top four, it’s a very important game.
To try to seize a bit of that form that we had in Perpignan and get it back is important too.
A lot of guys have had some time off, and while I wouldn’t say you lose your focus, you have to get your head back around training and playing week in, week out.
ON WORRIES ABOUT THE MUNSTER SCRUM:
I wouldn’t say the scrum is a concern. It’s frustrating for us because when we review and analyse it we’d look at a lot of things that we would have addressed beforehand that we’re not doing.
There’s basic things that the back five should be doing to help out the front row and it’s similar to a lot of stuff that the coaches were doing with us early on in the season, where they were telling us the exact things to do but we were going out on the pitch and not doing them.
We feel confident that if we, as a pack, do what we’re supposed to be doing in the scrum that we’ll be fine in the scrum.
Am I worried about it? I’d prefer if it was going a lot better but I do see solutions there every time we review it, so it’s not that much of a worry.
ON IT BEING TOO SIMPLISTIC TO BLAME IT ON THE PROPS:
Absolutely. It’s massive in scrimmaging how much the guys around you have to perform in terms of their work-rate in the scrum, their enthusiasm for scrimmaging, their chat at the scrum and all that.
When we get all that right we’re a good scrum, but when we knock off, focus on other things and don’t do those basic things right as a pack of eight players we can struggle a bit.
It’s definitely not right to just blame a prop. It’s a big thing for hookers, second rows and back rows.
You look at experienced hookers like Frankie Sheahan and Jerry Flannery for who those scrums would have been their bread and butter.
We need to get to the stage where we’re all as tactically aware about scrums as they are. That was their big thing – calling scrums, realising what opposition props were doing and being able to counteract it.
As a pack of forwards we need to help out our front rows and get all these little bits right.
Lineouts are such a collective effort that everyone seems to know it, but sometimes scrums are just seen as two props and nothing else, but it’s not like that.