O'Callaghan believes it's time players stood up for Penney and Munster supporters
Pool One Edinburgh v Munster: As one of one of the more experienced heavy-hitters returning to the Munster mix this week, Donncha O’Callaghan could be inclined to shout and cajole those of his team-mates who were part of last Saturday’s dismal defeat to Cardiff.
But not alone does he assume the same responsibility as if he had been playing himself, O’Callaghan says the damage to confidence implores him to take a more sympathetic approach.
Although he too clings to the hope that such a pre-Heineken Cup performance has historically been a timely kick in the rear, he admitted: “The big disadvantage is that they dent the confidence and for such a big week it can be the most important thing that you go into the game confident and that you want to express yourself and play the way you can. You’ve to nearly throw the arm around a bit and nearly tell fellahs how good they are. It’s more carrot than stick at the moment. You’ve to kind of help guys along and work with them.
“It’s grand to be a hurler on the ditch but we hurt as much as everyone,” he added in reference to his watching brief last Saturday.
“At Musgrave I met a guy coming out the door from Tipp and I was thinking I’d probably be at home sitting on my couch before him. He’s made a bigger sacrifice to get to the game and you feel bad for guys like that who come out.
“I know it’s overplayed by us sometimes but it’s really appreciated, and something that’s always led to us going well, that bond with the support.”
At face value, a 12.45pm Sunday kick-off in a largely uninhabited Murrayfield will be some way short of the inspiring atmosphere associated with Munster’s do-or-die Euro missions, and akin to their meetings with Saracens in December.
“Not at all. Like, it’s our season, it’s everything, 80 minutes of rugby to have a chance to have 80 minutes more. Otherwise it’s over. It doesn’t matter if there are four people at it down in Cois Laoi. We have to get a result and we’ve got to find a way. Sunday’s a massive one and if it was at four o’clock in the morning, we’d be up for it.”
Two bonus-point wins would virtually guarantee Munster progress at this juncture, but it could be that two wins of any hue might also suffice. O’Callaghan says bonus points haven’t even been mentioned and, besides which, he believes Munster are never as good when going onto the pitch with such distractions. “We’ve got to go and get a result and if that’s 3-0 in the last minutes this week, we’ll take it.”
Nor is there any danger of taking a hitherto misfiring Edinburgh for granted. “Not for us, not knowing Brads. He was my first coach at Con. I know him better than anyone, and we know that they’re quality players who probably haven’t been performing as best they’d like.
“Sometimes when you can play free and the shackles are off and you’re not worried about anything, you can just go and play and put in massive performances. Knowing Brads, I know exactly what he’ll be saying in the dressing-room, I know exactly how much he’ll want that win.”
Not alone do the Munster players feel they let themselves and their supporters down last Saturday, but their coaches as well. No game plan allows for 29 errors, maintained O’Callaghan, such as dropped passes and players running into touch.
“Axel [Anthony Foley] goes on about the touchline being the best defender on the pitch and we know better than anyone that when you’re on the attack, you stay away from it. I’ll be honest with you, you’d feel for coaches at the moment because everything gets put on to game plans and stuff like that when you know as a player that’s not the case. You just have to be better with your execution.
“You almost feel like you owe the coaches one in terms of there’s a lot of heat at the moment, kind of talking about different things like shape and the way we’re trying to play. But we know when you play any game plan poorly it looks poor.
“He’s good for standing up for us,” said O’Callaghan of Rob Penney, “but Sunday, at a quarter to one, is when we have to stand up for him.”