O'Connell shows how Irish blend rest and play

The Munster coach Declan Kidney couldn't have picked a better game than Friday night's 14-13 Celtic League victory overthe Llanelli Scarlets for John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell to join Ronan O'Gara on the field.

There were thrills and spills from start to finish, with O'Connell setting the game alight with his bullocking bursts before he finally had to leave the field battered and bruised.

No wonder the Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan wanted his top players to miss a few weeks of actitivity after their summer Down Under. O'Connell, as brave as he was bold, was pulled down on to his shoulder in the line-out, had his hand stamped on at the rucks and left the ground with an ice pack on his hand hoping he hadn't broken anything.

But while Munster's Lions were back in action, the Scarlets' Dwayne Peel was still in the stand awaiting his chance to play again next weekend when the Anglo-Welsh Powergen Cup kicks off.

Peel, and the other Welsh Lions, have been subjected to some joined-up thinking in Wales between the four regions and Mike Ruddock's management team. While the summer replacement Brent Cockbain was able to jump straight back into the deep end at the start of the season, the rest of the Welsh Lions have stuck rigidly to the 11-week playing break they were assigned.

The result may have been some indifferent performances by the Welsh sides in the Celtic League to date, but the likes of Ryan Jones, Martyn Williams, Michael Owen, Gethin Jenkins and Peel will be fit and raring to goon Sunday when the Scarlets travel to Leeds. That means Peel will meet up with the former All Blacks No 9 Justin Marshall in his first outing of the season.

Not that that is such a bad thing when you look at what the Welsh scrum-half has ahead of him: a trip to Toulouse next month in the Heineken Cup and then Tests against New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Australia in November.

No wonder the Welsh conditioning coach Andrew Hore demanded such a long break for his players after the Lions tour. "They are not pieces of meat," he said.

With two good victories under their belt against the reigning Celtic League champions, the Ospreys, and now the Scarlets, Munster look to be rounding into familiar form as the Heineken Cup approaches. What you see is what you get up front, while the addition of the ex-Springbok centre Trevor Halstead and back row man Denis Leamy at centre has certainly livened them up behind the scrum.

The Scarlets will have been devastated to lose after being awarded an eminently kickable penalty three minutes into injury time that the new outside-half Mike Hercus pushed wide. But Gareth Jenkins will have liked what he has seen to date from new centre Regan King, some of the distribution of Hercus and the form of the full-back Lee Byrne.

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