It took a mere 11 minutes for 2009 British & Irish Lions skipper Paul O’Connell to get the Cork crowd on its feet as he marked his return to full Munster duty with a try in a 22-0 win over Connacht.
Having warmed up with 40 minutes for Munster A and a full 80 for Young Munster in a club game, the RaboDirect PRO12 game at Musgrave Park was the acid test for the Irish second row as he bids not only for a place in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Harlequins next month, but also selection for a third Lions tour.
Nobody was going to stop him five metres from the line and as well as picking up a rare try, he was also named as the Man of the Match after a full 80 minute work out. Munster travel to second placed Glasgow Warriors next weekend ahead of their European showdown with Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday, 7 April.
The week after Munster have to face the reigning Heineken Cup champions Leinster at Thomond Park in another major match. The intensity of the next three weeks will undoubtedly give O’Connell the chance to prove to Lions coach Warren Gatland that he is match fit enough to be considered for Hong Kong and Australia.
The Munster man has packed down in the second row for the Lions in their last six tests on the tours to New Zealand and South Africa and led the Lions to that famous, record equalling victory over the world champion Springboks in Johannesburg in the third Test in 2009.
While Gatland will have been pleased to see O’Connell successfully negotiate his first full Munster match since October, he will also have noted that Dan Lydiate returned for the Dragons on Friday night and that Edinburgh’s Scottish international flanker Ross Rennie was at the heart of his side’s home win over Ulster.
England lock Tom Palmer put three months of injury heartbreak behind him as he returned for London Wasps in their narrow home defeat against Northampton Saints, while Gordon D’Arcy was back in action for Leinster as they marched to the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 with a home win over Glasgow.