PAUL O’CONNELL IS to step down as captain of Munster Rugby, according to Wednesday morning reports.
The Irish Examiner caught up with the second-row, who has captained Munster for the past six years, at the Tuesday launch of the 2012-13 RaboDirect Pro12 in Glasgow.
The 32-year-old told the newspaper that he had ‘really enjoyed’ the role but change, under new coach Rob Penney, was afoot. He said:
It’s something I thoroughly enjoyed, probably not as much in the first few years as I did in the last few years, but I think it might be time for a change at Munster.
“I’ve done it for a long time, Rob (Penney) is coming in as a new coach and it might be a time for change, but it’s undecided at the moment. We might take another week or so to figure of what we’re going to do, so we’ll see what happens.”
O’Connell, who is recovering from a knee injury that cut his 2011-12 season short, is not expected to be sufficiently fit to start the league campaign next weekend. He is more likely to feature for the province in mid-September.
He believes that not having the captaincy may give him ample time to focus on his own game and fitness.
He commented, “When you’re captain, at times you are keeping an eye on everything else and maybe not keeping an eye on yourself as much as you’d like to.”
“I’ve had six years of it now, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I loved doing it but it might be time for change and for someone else to take it on.”
Penney is also quoted in the newspaper report. The former Canterbury coach said, “Paul is a magnificent leader in his own right and a magnificent man and a critical member of Irish and Munster rugby.
“We haven’t confirmed our captain as yet and that process is ongoing.”
Doug Howlett has captained Munster in their first two pre-season games thus far and will once again don the armband when the province face London Irish on Friday.
As a former All Black – having last featured for New Zealand in 2007 – Howlett would be able to commit himself to featuring in the majority of Munster’s games and would not be encumbered by the international rugby schedule.
Munster team to face London Irish: D Hurley; D Howlett (captain), C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; I Keatley, D Williams; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D Foley, B Holland; D O’Callaghan, S Dougall, J Coughlan.