Donncha O’Callaghan has never been afraid to express his opinion. Despite having earned a reputation for being a bit of a joker, the big second row has consistently challenged himself and those around him.
His move to the Worcester Warriors is an example of this. Although he could have chosen to wind down his career with Munster, O’Callaghan instead decided to seek an early release from his contract and join the Warriors.
At the time, Worcester had only just been promoted into the Premiership and a tough season lay ahead. However, after investing in their squad, the Warriors ensured survival.
Nevertheless, despite making some high profile signings this summer, Worcester were rocked by the departure of Dean Ryan. Although Carl Hogg was quickly appointed as their new Director of Rugby, O’Callaghan described the early stages of the Warriors’ pre-season preparations as ‘rocky’.
However, Hogg has since done an ‘incredible job instilling confidence into the players’. Indeed, after signing the likes of Ben Te’o and Francois Hougaard, there is a great deal expected of Worcester this season.
Adding quality players should enable the Warriors to improve on their 10th place finish last season. However, despite the fact that they had just been promoted, O’Callaghan maintains that Worcester were ‘disappointed with last season’.
We failed to pick up crucial bonus points. We were up by eight points against Wasps last season, but lost the game without even claiming a bonus point. Little things like that cost us a higher place in the league.
But you gain experience from those kinds of defeats, and hopefully we can push on this season.
Although making big name signings can bring added pressure, the 94 times capped Irish international believes such players will enable Worcester to ‘stick our chest out and say we are a big club’. However he also stressed that capturing big players is not just about making a statement, it’s more to do with raising standards.
When we signed Jim Williams at Munster, things changed. He demanded more of the players around him, and we responded.
The Premiership is not like the Pro 12, you need a massive squad to compete. When I was at Munster we could have survived on a squad of 28 players, but not over here where you need to have a strong squad.
Playing in Ireland can be a little insular. Over here you play with guys from all over the world who bring different cultures and experiences to the club. It all helps raise standards.
One of the players returning to Ireland is Darren O’Shea, who is joining Munster after spending two years at Sixways. O’Callaghan rates the 23 year old highly, emphasising his work rate and athleticism, and adding, ‘for a big man he can move, and has a skillful pair of hands’. Munster fans will also be delighted to hear that O’Shea really wanted to join the province.
When he [O’Shea] was in the middle of negotiating with Munster, he simply said “f*ck it I’m a Munsterman, that’s where I want to play”.
That’s what you want in fellas, someone who cares. When you play with Munster you have to give it your all.
Darren is young enough to forge alliances with some of the other Dolphin lads in the squad, guys like James Cronin and Rory Scannell, and drive Munster forward.
Nevertheless, the former British and Irish Lions lock believes that young Irish players should consider moving abroad in some instances. Using O’Shea as an example, O’Callaghan argued that Munster’s new arrival wouldn’t have received the same amount of game time if he stayed in Ireland.
Darren played a lot of rugby over here. In Ireland we sometimes get hooked on producing perfect athletes, but you need game time to become a more rounded player.
In England you play quality teams week in week out. There are real rivalries over here, the fans are passionate and you know when you’re playing away from home.
Even if young lads are not included in the first team, they play every Monday night in the ‘A’ league. That’s a really competitive environment in which to prove yourself.
It’s all about gaining experience from playing rugby, especially for front five players. I remember learning loads from my days playing AIL.
As a young lad playing minor rugby, I remember getting my arse handed to me by 35 year old locks who smelt of drink. But you need that, young Irish players need to get their arses handed to them.
Friday night will see O’Callaghan return to Cork when Worcester take on Munster in Musgrave Park. Although it might only be a pre-season friendly, O’Callaghan revealed he has ‘never been so nervous’ and wishes he ‘wasn’t even playing’.
Musgrave Park is a special place for me. I was there when Munster beat Australia, and some of mys best days playing underage and senior were on that pitch.
It’s going to be emotional, I’m going to have to treat the game as a high speed training session and concentrate on the processes.
But I know when you walk out the door you’re gone.
When Muster played Ireland back in 1999, every time Keith Wood touched the ball he was booed, so I know what to expect. I’m over here now, so I’m effectively one of them.
Despite his sentiment, Munster fans will no doubt give O’Callaghan the reception he deserves for his years of service in the famous red jersey.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena