O’Connell regrets his actions and his words
Munster captain admits the furore has ’not been ideal’ in preparing for Clermont game
Clermont Auvergne’s Jamie Cudmore is sent off following an incident with Munster’s Paul O’Connell in 2008. The two will renew acquittances on Saturday. Photograph: James Crombie /Inpho
Paul O’Connell not only kicked the ball and Dave Kearney’s head but, as much by dint of what he said afterwards, he became the man who kicked the hornet’s nest. Hence, it has evidently been a long week for the Munster captain, who looked more than a little sheepish and shook yesterday by the fall-out from the kick which left the Leinster player unconscious 10 days ago and, O’Connell conceded, has ensured less than ideal preparation for a Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont that is daunting enough in its own right.
Although O’Connell had sought out the stricken winger after the game, within 48 hours he had spoken of his relief at the highly vexed and flawed decision by the match citing commissioner Eddie Walsh not to cite him, adding that “you have people looking at it with a blue jersey on and people looking at it with a red jersey on”. That, coupled with the assertion of his coach Rob Penney that O’Connell had no case to answer, prompted an impassioned and lucid critique of the non-citing by Joe Schmidt a day later.
“It hasn’t been ideal and it certainly hasn’t been the ideal build-up,” said O’Connell of Saturday’s upcoming sideshow in Montpellier against the in-form, hugely motivated and odds-on tournament favourites. “But all I can say is it was 100 per cent an accident and I never thought for an instant I was going to make a connection with David’s head.
“I was hoping to poke the ball through, or kick the ball through and get a turnover for the team but having said that, my comments last week, I’d regret them. They didn’t help the situation and probably gave the impression I was a bit indifferent to David’s injury. That wasn’t the case at all. I had spoken to him after the game and during the week and was in contact with him in various other ways but I certainly didn’t help the situation last week.
“It’s certainly not ideal that David’s out, and missed last week’s game, and I just hope he’s back playing soon. But, yeah, it was a frustrating few weeks and just disappointed it happened.”
Speaking to the media after Munster’s training session in Musgrave Park yesterday, O’Connell expressed the “hope” that it won’t affect him in similar situations, adding not entirely convincingly, “I’m sure it won’t”.
And aside from perhaps being more self-conscious, given the outrage in French rugby and a perception that there is a different sense of justice for Irish players, he is also liable to be even more of a marked man and pantomime villain.
This also led to O’Connell’s old sparring partner Jamie Cudmore, who received a five-week ban for punching O’Connell to earn one of his haul of four red cards in a pool match in Thomond Park in 2008, taking the moral high ground.
“How long for a kick in the head these days?!” tweeted Clermont’s abrasive Canadian lock, to which his secondrow partner Nathan Hines tweeted: “You know the answer to that question boss.”
O’Connell likewise laughed this off. “Yeah, look, I think he said something in jest, so I didn’t read much into it really.”
In any event, O’Connell must now park the matter. “I have to, for the team. We’ve put a lot of work into getting here; well, the lads have put a lot of work into getting us here, I haven’t done a whole lot. But I have to focus on the job now and hopefully we can go over there and get a result.”
Ah yes, Clermont. “It’s probably the biggest challenge in my time in Munster that we’ve been involved in. The teams down the years would have been massive underdogs going into this game not to mention this team. I think their bench would start on most Six Nations teams not to mention Heineken Cup teams, so they have a phenomenally strong squad.”
Adding that Clermont have been “there or thereabouts for the last few years” in both the Heineken Cup and the French championship, that losing semi-finals and quarter-finals has made them hungrier and that they are an even more potent and difficult team to analyse than four years ago, O’Connell admitted: “We’re going to need things to go our way to win it.
‘Out of their skins’
“You can win games sometimes with eight or nine players playing well, we’re going to need 15 players playing out of their skins and then we’re going to need everyone coming off the bench to make a big impact as well.”
To that end, Munster would have to emulate the Cup-tie rugby they displayed to beat Harlequins and marry it with the broader game which Penney has been seeking to introduce. “It’s important we do all the good stuff we did against Harlequins, but also play some of the rugby we have played at times during the year. We have played some great rugby at times but we haven’t done it for 80 minutes and that’s the big thing.”