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Plumtree: 'I just can't talk highly enough' about Paul O'Connell

The Munster lock is showing signs of improvement, with the Irish set-up hoping to see him return against Wales.

O'Connell missed Sunday's clash with a chest infection.
O'Connell missed Sunday's clash with a chest infection.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

THE SIGHT OF Paul O’Connell up and about, recovering well from the chest infection that saw him pulled out of the win over Scotland on Sunday, will have been greatly welcomed by Joe Schmidt and his coaching staff this morning.

Ireland need their best players on the pitch this weekend against Wales, and captain O’Connell most certainly falls into that category. In a curious way, the Munster lock’s illness could be seen in a positive light, given that Dan Tuohy clocked up a sixth start for Ireland and showed that he can cut it at this level.

However, O’Connell’s expected recovery in time for the clash with Warren Gatland’s side could be vital. An in-form, world class second row of his mental strength would boost any side. Having missed this morning’s training session at Carton House, it is hoped the 34-year-old will take a full part on Thursday.

Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree says that is not a major issue this week, given the reduced volume of squad training with the six-day turnaround to be managed. The Kiwi is also content with how his other second rows are developing.

It’s not too bad. We’ve done a lot of work in the last couple of weeks and Paul will slot back in there on Thursday if he’s fit. You know, Dan Tuohy did really well in there last weekend and Dev Toner is starting to step it up as well.

“He’s starting to understand his role, which is calling, etc. at the line-out. He’s learning really fast and Dan has called line-outs well at Ulster too. They’re really experienced campaigners as well but it would be good to have Paul back for this contest, so we’re looking after him at the moment.”

image

Dan Tuohy [right] stepped in to fill O’Connell’s shoes against Scotland. ©INPHO/Colm O’Neill.

As to how important O’Connell is for Ireland, Plumtree is effusive in his praise, with the lock’s “fussy” preparation having been particularly impressive for the former Sharks head coach.

“I’ve been around a long time myself and he’s right up there in terms of professional players that I’ve been involved with. I’ve coached in New Zealand, I’ve coached in South Africa at the top level, and that guy… I just can’t talk highly enough about him.

“He is one guy that I’ve just been really impressed with as an individual player. I’ve got so much respect for him in that sense, what makes him such a good leader. He doesn’t do all the bantering and yelling off the pitch, he gets on with it. He’s a smart operator, he knows the right questions to ask, the right buttons to push.”

Meanwhile, openside flanker Chris Henry hailed the performance of Tuohy in stepping into the starting team at late notice, while also pointing out that Iain Henderson had been very “professional” in his readiness to come onto the bench.

It was a big shock for everybody obviously, for Dan more so. For Paulie to drop out, such a leader and a figure for us, it was a bit daunting I suppose. But to have someone like Dan to fill in like that, I thought he did really well and that’s what you want. You don’t want it to disrupt the team and I don’t think it did too much.”

Henry’s back row competitor, Tommy O’Donnell, agrees that O’Connell’s return to full health would be a timely boost. However, the powerful Munster flanker is also mature enough to point out that everybody else must remain focused on their own preparation for Wales.

“Yeah, it’s very important, he’s a huge leader. Obviously the way we’re preparing at the moment is that we’re preparing as a squad. We know that the 23rd, 24th and 25th man are just as important and it was proven to us in the first game that you need to be ready, you need to know your stuff and be ready to slot in.”

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Murray Kinsella

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