No rest for O'Connell as Munster steps up effort
While many players would be forgiven for having one eye on their holidays, Munster's 34-year-old captain Paul O'Connell doesn't want the season to end.
After suffering so many injuries in recent times, the former Lions captain knows he is better off playing as many matches as possible, so if Munster can reach the Pro12 final, all the better for the Limerick man.
He will have one unavoidable, unscheduled week off – when Munster could have been playing in a Heineken Cup final against Saracens. Instead, their focus is on winning the remaining silverware on offer.
The more games the merrier for O'Connell who starts this evening's dead rubber against Ulster after doing so in Edinburgh last weekend.
"A three-week break does not suit me," says O'Connell. "I want to get as many games in a row as I can. Six weeks on the go, a week off and a small bit of training the week after is my ideal schedule.
"It never works out as smoothly as that, but that is what I want."
That would have been his schedule had Munster got the better of Toulon but, instead, the province intends to redouble its efforts to claim the Pro12.
It is more than likely that they must do so with a pair of road trips following an expected win against a weakened Ulster side tonight. But coach Rob Penney has no fears about his side achieving the away wins in this competition, despite their agonising, mostly self-inflicted European reverse away from home.
"Yes we are," said the departing Kiwi, when asked whether he was prepared for a possible away double in both the semi-final and, should they get through, a final on May 31.
"I've got a lot of faith in these boys and I think they've got a lot of faith in themselves, which is great. It's never easy playing away, but I think we've had some reasonable successes away and it's not daunting for us, but we'll have to be good.
"We keep having to play good rugby to ensure we're in the hunt and if the team does that we've every chance."
Tonight will be a veritable training run as Ulster, already debilitated by injury and suspensions to key players, hold their players in reserve for a likely away tie in an RDS semi-final against Leinster next week.
With a seeding in the Rugby Champions Cup up for grabs there is still much to be played for on the domestic front.
"Ulster have probably been bitterly disappointed with the way things have gone for them in the last few weeks," says O'Connell of the northerners' own self-inflicted trauma in Europe.
"They have been very unlucky and I think they probably had the most confidence going into the Heineken Cup than they've had in a long time. To become undone in the way they did against Saracens was very disappointing. I'd say, same as ourselves, they are looking for consolation."
While Munster's wholesale changes – 10 in all – indicate their strength in depth, Ulster's radical overhaul of their roster ensures that what should be a grand inter-provincial occasion could develop into a damp squib for the neutral.
Munster's last three matches in the Pro12 have all been won by the away side on the day and, although they were defeated by Glasgow at Thomond Park in their most recent home game, they have not lost back-to-back contests here in four years.
Ulster have already ensured they will finish fourth in the table, but have won only one of their last four Pro12 matches, including losing their last two away games, at Cardiff Blues and at Glasgow.