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Big hits expected in school of hard knocks

Guinness PRO12 Editor

27 Dec 2010

The bigger and harder the hits, the more the players will enjoy it – that’s the verdict on tonight’s (kick-off 6.10pm) big Irish inter-pro derby between Connacht and Munster from former international flanker Jonny O’Connor.

The Connacht talisman is preparing himself and his side for another epic battle at a sold-out Sportsground against the current Magners League leaders. Two years ago the home side rocked their biggest rivals with a 12-6 victory and O’Connor is expecting another uncompromising night’s work.

But the Magners League Ambassador wouldn’t want it any other way. One of the few survivors from Connacht’s debut team in the Magners League way back in 2001, when they beat Cardiff at the Arms Park 6-3, he has experienced some great highs as well as some disappointing lows in his career.

Now 30, the Galway-born flanker won 12 caps for Ireland during his stint at London Wasps and is renowned as one of the most combative back row warriors in the northern hemisphere. That’s why he can’t wait to get stuck into Connacht’s next three matches – Munster, Leinster and the Dragons.

"You have to front up in these games – it's unavoidable. You know the game is going to be hard, physical and maybe even violent, so you have no choice other than to bring your best game,” said O’Connor.

"It's enjoyable conflict, which is what rugby is all about. There may even be a small element of fear, but that's what brings the best out of you – I wouldn't have it any other way.

"Not many people like coming to the Sportsground and this season we're really playing a good brand of rugby. We're throwing the ball around, but we've lost that finishing touch that we had at the start of the season.

“If we can break that, we could get on a roll, although Munster are playing well and are at the top of the table on merit. They have a lot of experience, keep their composure and know how to win games, be it ugly or with fantastic rugby.

"We beat them a couple of years ago, but we know it's going to tough and if we don't show up, it could be embarrassing. Over the Christmas period we play Munster and then Leinster, but these big occasions are what get you going."

"I'm homeward bound here at Connacht and enjoying something of an Indian summer. I'm enjoying the rugby we're playing and it's emotional for me to play for my home club and everything that represents – my family and friends. That's the most important thing to me now.

"There's so much talent out there for places in the Ireland back-row that I just play my own game and see how things go. But I would like to help the young players here at Connacht come through and fulfil their ambitions of playing for Ireland."