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Paul O’Connell: Success of Munster game plan is all in the head

‘Accuracy is the big thing,’ says the lock. ‘Scoring when we’re in the green zone and mixing our game a bit better.’

Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

A NEW SEASON and new faces, but the same old questions linger around Munster.

The culture shock which Rob Penney brought from the south island to the southern province remains a real talking point, if no longer a sticking point.

Last week, Conor Murray and Keith Earls gave their view that the squad had hit the ground running with the passing game looking sharper and more clinical than ever.

Paul O’Conell, however, has a slightly different view. The heartbeat of the red pack says that success this season will be down to improved decision-making as much as anything.

“I think that was there last year,” the Lions lock said at the launch of Munster’s partnership with Bank of Ireland.

“We just weren’t always accurate. We knew what we were doing and so often we were able to review games and could see the space and see what should have been done. We just weren’t always accurate in the execution.”

Green zone

Of course ‘accuracy’ is the kind of buzz-word that many rugby players use as a catch-all phrase. Somehow, when the same words come through O’Connell’s down-to-earth drawl, they suddenly sound like something real and tangible.

“We need to be more accurate and to hang onto the ball more,” he adds.

“We got into the green zone – or whatever you want to call that area close to the line – and you need to come away with points when you get there. We weren’t always very patient or very accurate when we got there and we didn’t convert as much as we should or as much as good teams need to.

“Another thing is we probably need to mix up our game a little bit more and read the flow of the game. That’s what we did towards the end of the season a bit more. When something worked we did it well and we mixed our game really well.”

Sat alongside O’Connell was his head coach, Rob Penney, and he attempted to put further distance between himself and the word ‘change’, saying that the fundamentals of good forward play remain the same as they were under Declan Kidney or Alan Gaffney.

“It’s not a new style at all,” says the Kiwi. “There are elements of what Munster have done in the past. There’s no team on the planet that doesn’t have a robust element within their tactics. That just goes without saying that that’s part of the repertoire.

“I think the growth in the game, the subtle changes that we’ve made to all our methods in terms of attack will be highly evident for everyone to see.

“It’s a continued process of playing what the boys see and exploiting space, wherever that may be, and growing confidence in the technical and tactical elements to achieve that. It’s the focus of the coaching staff and the boys have embraced that philosophy which is the key part.”

It’s difficult to swallow the argument that those ‘subtle changes’ Penney mentions did not make for a steep learning curve. O’Connell draws the comparison back to 2005 when he says he is now passing the ball 300-400 more each week, but the sharpest increase in that tally surely came in the past 12 months.

“[Passing] is such an important part of the game now, that everyone can handle and everyone can run and pass. I think every player across the board has improved their skill-set,” O’Connell says.

“From what I know, the lads love playing the way we play; they really enjoy it, enjoy the way we can mix it up.

“We just have to be accurate and execute. That isn’t something we always did last year. When we did, we were good. When we didn’t we weren’t so good.”

The answers are on the field.

Want to know what Munster have planned for the season ahead? Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is taking over Bank of Ireland’s Twitter , @talktoBOI , from 6pm-7pm on Friday 23rd August.

Tweet your burning rugby questions to #boirugby.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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