O'Connell seems certain to miss Wasps game
John O'Sullivantalks to Ronan O'Gara as he prepares for one of his favourite competitions and the difficult task Munster face in a competitive pool
Paul O'Connell seems certain to miss Munster's opening Heineken Cup match against Wasps at the Ricoh Stadium in Coventry on Saturday. The Irish secondrow and Munster captain is hampered by a disc problem in his back and hasn't played a competitive match since returning form the Rugby World Cup.
The prognosis is that he could be at least a couple of weeks away from a return to playing responsibilities. The very nature of the problem makes it difficult to copper-fasten a date.
Munster coach Declan Kidney will have been heartened by the return of another of his key players in Ronan O'Gara and the impact the outhalf made in victory over Edinburgh at Musgrave Park on Saturday night.
O'Gara, the leading points scorer in the European Cup and just 59 short of the 900 mark, is typically phlegmatic about what lies ahead in the tournament. "The Heineken Cup is a fantastic competition, one that has great personal memories for me. And I'm sure that will apply to all Munster supporters and players," said O'Gara.
"We are in a very difficult pool. It would have been nice to have avoided a couple of these teams at this early stage to allow us to catch our breath at the start. With the likes of Wasps, Llanelli and Clermont Auvergne there's obviously no chance of that. We have to be right from day one as any slip-ups would put us under pressure."
O'Gara, who won the man-of-the-match accolade at Musgrave Park last weekend, deflected any personal praise in the aftermath pointing out that the European tournament would represent a considerably more difficult challenge.
"We are setting ourselves up for Test-match rugby, starting at the Ricoh Stadium this weekend. The Heineken Cup games, even at the pool stages, are every bit as intense as the international arena. It may even be a question of there being greater pressure in this tournament because of the level of local support and passion that is so evident when we play in these games."
Wasps' decision to move the match from their home ground of Adams Park to the higher capacity Ricoh Stadium, as they did for last year's semi-final against Northampton, has raised one or two eyebrows. Munster supporters have proven countless times in the past that they are willing to travel in huge numbers and there is a real danger for the home side that red will be the dominant colour in the stands.
O'Gara doesn't believe that Wasps have made an error in their choice of venue. "I don't believe for one minute that Wasps would have chosen to take us to the Ricoh Stadium if they thought it was going to put their side at a disadvantage. They are one of the most professional sides in club rugby and the venue will not act against them.
"As they demonstrated at Lansdowne Road in 2004, the composition of the crowd won't deter them. That said I think we will give a good account of ourselves on and off the pitch. It's going to be a cracking game.
"As far as we are concerned in Munster, we'd be pretty happy where we are in our build-up to the opening pool rounds."
In some respects the Irish province know the expectation lies with the home side this weekend. Wasps simply have to win whereas Munster could measure their success in a bonus point defeat.
Last season Munster beat Leicester Tigers at Welford Road in the opening pool match - O'Gara's long-range penalty was the decisive moment - but were beaten in the semi-final whereas in 2005 they lost that opening clash away to Sale Sharks and went on to win the trophy that year.
Meanwhile Kieron Dawson will definitely miss Ulster's opening match against Gloucester at Ravenhill on Friday night with a knee injury.