O'Callaghan stands alone among Munster's internationals
Munster will be without the bulk of their Ireland internationals as they bid to get back on track when they travel to play Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday.
Donncha O’Callaghan is the only Ireland squad member who will be cleared to play for Munster this weekend, although recent international debutant Dave Kilcoyne will also be available, having missed the game away to Saracens through illness.
Rob Penney will have to plan without players such as Ronan O’Gara, Simon Zebo, Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony for the trip to Galway, all of whom are being rested as part of the player welfare programme.
Fullback Felix Jones is doubtful with a thigh injury as Munster bid to bounce back from the disappointment of the loss to Saracens which has left their Heineken Cup quarter-final hopes in serious doubt.
Penney believes that they can still qualify and Munster look set to be boosted by the return of Keith Earls from injury for the remaining pool games away to Edinburgh and at home to Racing Metro.
“He is making good improvement. It was a grade one tear, which is usually two to three weeks. He is three-quarters of the way through that process now so hopefully he’ll be able to do some more high-end activity over the next week or so and see how how bounces back after the Irish camp and when he is available for some footie,” said Penney, who hopes to have him back for the Cardiff game prior to the resumption of the Heineken Cup.
The Munster coach said that it was difficult to work out the permutations which would see them make the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. The key, though, was to win those two remaining games and hope it was enough to book a place.
“I have seen some history and it says teams have missed out on 22 and teams have gotten in on 19. So you have got to be in that band somewhere, maybe 21 is not enough,” he added.
Meanwhile, Penney has admitted that the new IRFU stipulations which have come into effect regarding the contracting of foreign players, is proving difficult.
But he stressed that he was fully behind the IRFU plan which aims to ensure that only one non-Irish qualified player is allowed to play across the 15 positions for Ulster, Leinster and Munster.
Penney declined to comment on specific cases but said some flexibility may need to be applied. He said that a situation should not be allowed develop where a foreign player departs and is not replaced by an Irish-qualified player of at least similar quality.
“I think there will be some challenges there for sure. It is about getting the balance between doing the right by the team, by having quality players in each position. And also doing the right thing by Irish rugby.
“You have just got to be sure if someone in a specialist position moves on, that the quality of the person that is Irish eligible is able to stand the work load and do the job well enough.
“Otherwise you end up with a player that doesn’t get any benefit from playing a lot of footie back to back repeatedly and getting hammered. And then the ability to grow people on the back of that is really diminished.”