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O'Connell urges patience as Munster's all-Irish coaches look for balance

The 34-year-old lock admits working under Anthony Foley and Jerry Flannery has altered their personal relationships.

O'Connell in the new Adidas Munster Rugby 2014/15 alternate kit.
O'Connell in the new Adidas Munster Rugby 2014/15 alternate kit.

PAUL O’CONNELL BELIEVES supporters and media will need to give Munster’s new homegrown coaching staff time to have a positive effect, as they attempt to ensure the province plays a more balanced style than in the last two seasons.

The 34-year-old admits it is a happy coincidence that Brian Walsh, Ian Costello, Mick O’Driscoll and Jerry Flannery form an all-Irish backroom team beneath head coach Anthony Foley, but points out it was not a stated criterion during the interview process.

While there is a distinct element of the unproven about the coaches set to carry Munster forward after two seasons of Rob Penney’s rule, O’Connell is enthusiastic about the new faces.

“I think all the appointments are brilliant appointments, but I think it’s important people realise that they’re young, they need a bit of time,” says the Ireland captain. “I think Joe Schmidt struggled when he first came into Leinster.

It’s important that people are patient with the guys. I’ve seen the work they’re doing, I’d be fairly up to date in terms of what they’re trying to do and how they want us to play. I think they’re going to be very good.”

There is little doubt that Munster’s players learned a new way of tactically operating during Penney’s era, even if the ‘wide-wide’ pattern had its critics. O’Connell suggests the province will operate in a modified manner this season, even if elements of that width are retained.

“I think hopefully we’ll bring the best from the last few years, a lot of the really good things we did in the last few seasons. Some of the frustrating things we did, you’d love to see them eradicated.

Paul O'Connell The 34-year-old is enjoying an injury-free pre-season with Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think we just have to be a little bit more practical in how we play, in particular at certain times of the year in terms of conditions. The big thing I would have been chasing over the last two years under Rob was to have the right mixture – when to kick, when to keep it tight, when to go to width.”

O’Connell explains that Foley and his assistants have brought an “incredible enthusiasm” to their new duties and have already become “very tight,” something that is reflected in their joined-up communication during training.

Adapting to new coaches’ demands can be a demanding task at the best of times, but the fact that O’Connell has played with – and shared victorious experiences with – Foley and Flannery relatively recently adds another strand to that process.

I suppose there probably has been a distance [between himself and Foley] really since he’s been coaching. For the last few years I certainly don’t spend as much time with him as I would have when he played.

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“It’s the same with Jerry; it’s certainly been strange to be coached by Jerry. I’m trying to keep a straight face at times, because he’s like a different person when he’s coaching. He’s meticulous in his preparation and everyone knows that.

“But it’s funny to see how focused he is, whereas for the last few years certainly, I know him from a social point of view. Even with Jerry, I probably haven’t had as much craic with him as I had in recent months [before he re-joined Munster]. But I’m experienced enough to know that that’s the way it has to be, and he is as well.”

Players 4part_Comp Peter O'Mahony, O'Connell, Simon Zebo and Conor Murray in their new solar green jersey.

Speaking in the University of Limerick as Munster launched their solar green Adidas alternate kit, O’Connell looks in superb physical shape, apparently carrying more lean mass after his summer break and the first stint of pre-season training.

The second row admits that he is managing his sessions in fine detail, getting through two heavy on-pitch fitness hits per week but also doing more off-feet training than others in the form of the dreaded Wattbike.

After holidays in west Cork and Italy following Ireland’s tour of Argentina, O’Connell is relieved to have an injury-free run at pre-season, an absolute rarity in his career.

It makes a massive difference. Even when I look back on the years that, you know, that I played my best rugby in – 2005, 2006, 2008, the year of the World Cup – they are all down to big pre-seasons.

“The second row is such a work rate position; you are trying to accumulate tackles, ball carries, rucks and you need to have that big work load done in the summer to be able to accumulate that work load in the games.

“Whenever I’ve had a good pre-season I’ve generally had a good season after it.”

NO ALTERNATIVE: Paul O’Connell was speaking at the launch of the new Adidas Munster Rugby 2014/15 alternate kit. The new solar green jersey is available to buy from the 1st August in Life Style Sports Stores nationwide and online at www.lifestylesports.com/munster.

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Murray Kinsella

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