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'It was magic for the big fella' - Penney heaps praise on returning O'Connell

The Munster coach described his star man as “a scholar of rugby”.

Munster head coach Rob Penney speaks to reporters.
Munster head coach Rob Penney speaks to reporters.

ROB PENNEY HAS spoken of his relief at having Paul O’Connell available for selection again, after the Munster and Ireland star produced an impressive performance against Connacht yesterday.

O’Connell was influential as ever, and scored his side’s first try of the game, impressing the onlooking Munster coach in the process.

“It was magic for the big fella,” Penney said. “It’s great for everyone to see and for his own peace of mind, and to get a lovely try in those opening stages just settled him in.

“He was superb, but that’s the usual calibre for the big fella. He’s a very driven, intelligent, assiduous scholar of rugby.”

Penney went on to explain how O’Connell’s pervasive influence provides an extra element of security to the Munster side.

“You just sense when you’re putting a team out there with him that everyone understands what they have to do. Because if they don’t, Paulie will challenge them.

“You just see it on the park too, driving and dictating and getting the best out of everybody. He’s just a great leader.”

The New Zealand-born coach said he was relatively satisfied with the team’s overall performance, and refrained from criticising them too much for their failure to secure a bonus point, despite having plenty of time to do so.

“I was pleased with performance first and foremost – we’re always hunting for points. We just weren’t able to [get the bonus point], but it wasn’t through lack of endeavour.

“Credit to Connacht though, they never laid down.”

Meanwhile, O’Connell gave a typically harsh assessment of his own display.

“I felt like one of those players who does something good and then doesn’t do anything for five minutes,” he said. “I felt like I was doing a bit of that today.

“I just need to get back the match fitness to be able to put together those back-to-back efforts. I probably didn’t have that today.”

In addition to vowing to be fully fit for the upcoming all-important Heineken Cup quarter-final with Harlequins, he said the match was an important step in his ongoing attempt to return to full fitness, and described his feelings on the new style of play that Penney has introduced.

“It was really enjoyable to play in. I thought the weather was going to be really bad and I thought it was going to be a tight game, which would have suited me as well from a fitness point of view.

“It’s easier to play in the lungs in some ways than what we used to do. I feel great physically. But you just can’t replicate lineout-jumping and mauling in training games.”

O’Connell then reiterated his criticism of his own performance owing to this lack of fitness, while also suggesting his teammates have much to improve upon.

“We started well, but descended into some of the silly stuff we’ve been doing in recent weeks. We released the pressure with silly turnovers, and that’s something we can’t do. And I wasn’t happy with some of my breakdown stuff.”

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In addition, David Kilcoyne echoed Penney’s delight at having O’Connell back in the side.

“It was great. He gave everyone a lift – supporters and players

“We’re facing into our biggest part of the season, so to have Paulie back is huge for us.”

He added that he was happy to be back starting games, after his more peripheral role for Ireland in recent weeks.

“The strength and conditioning work for Ireland keeps you in shape, but there’s no substitute for game time.”

Additional reporting by Aoife Danagher

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