'It's great to see Munster being brave and selecting some of the younger guys'

Paul O’Connell has been impressed by the likes of Ben Healy and John Hodnett.

IT WAS TELLING how enthusiastically Jack O’Donoghue and Billy Holland referenced the number of homegrown players in Munster’s team in their post-match interviews on Monday night.

Munster had just beaten Cardiff Blues in a fairly wild game in which the southern province’s starting XV had included homegrown 14 players.

While their 17 offloads certainly helped with the enthusiasm levels, there’s no doubt that the Munster players were simply excited to be part of a side that showed the fruits of the province’s pipeline, with youngsters like Gavin Coombes, John Hodnett, Ben Healy, Craig Casey, and Fineen Wycherley all impressing. 

john-hodnett-with-rory-thornton John Hodnett impressed for Munster on Monday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Watching on from home was Munster legend Paul O’Connell and he was equally encouraged to see such a strong homegrown crop in Johann van Graan’s side.

“If you care for the team you are playing for and you care for the people you are playing with and you are really cognizant of the people that you are representing in terms of the fans, I think it is the biggest asset we have in Irish rugby,” says O’Connell, who pointed to his experiences in France as having underlined that asset.

“It’s something that we have to be careful not to dilute. I’m all for some players moving around the provinces but I think the Munster team has to be predominantly Munster, the Ulster team predominantly Ulster men, the same for Connacht and Leinster.

“To play a game like [Monday] night, to win it like they did, to play some of the rugby they did and to have so many young local players in the team as well; it is exciting for fans which is what I am at this stage.

“That’s probably what excites me more than anything – seeing local guys doing well, looking confident, looking well-coached. I think that is exciting.”

Munster have secured three wins from three to start the new 2020/21 season and while O’Connell hasn’t been impressed with several aspects of how the side has played, the quality of young talent coming through does encourage him.

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“The appetite to play from some of the younger guys is a joy to see,” says O’Connell. “I think Ben Healy has been fantastic. Obviously, his goal-kicking is brilliant but some of his passing has been really good and his defence hasn’t been bad which people might talk about from time to time.

“We are so jealous of watching Leinster bring all these young players through all the time, it’s great to see Munster being brave and selecting some of the younger guys.

Paul O'Connell Head-to-Head_WEB Vodafone ambassador Paul O’Connell at the British & Irish Lions jersey launch for the 2021 tour of South Africa.

“John Hodnett is a fantastic player that is a very powerful guy, perhaps not that tall but he is very powerful and reads the game really, really well, which is probably what we are used to seeing from some of the younger Leinster players that come through. They seem to be able to read the game really quickly.”

With such a promising crop of players coming through in Munster, coaching will be key and on that front, O’Connell would love to see one of his old team-mates back in the mix at some point.

Ronan O’Gara is now head coach at La Rochelle in France but O’Connell feels he would be a brilliant addition to the Munster set-up if he can be convinced to return home.

“I’d love if he came back to Munster,” says O’Connell. “One of the things in coaching is about being able to connect with players and being able to connect with people. All throughout his career as a player, ROG was brilliant at that – he could mix it with the old guys and the young guys. I think he’s doing that now with La Rochelle. 

“So I’d love to see him back in Munster sooner rather than later. I think we have a great coaching staff there at the moment but I’d love to see him coaching in Munster.

“He seems to be able to get the best out of people and he has such a lovely way about him. I think he’s doing great and I’d love to see him back in Irish rugby sooner rather than later.”

Vodafone have also announced a new ‘Digital Lions’ Initiative that will allow rugby fans to virtually become a British and Irish Lion for the first time. 

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Murray Kinsella

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