O'Connell's presence to be felt all over
HEINEKEN CUP TEAM NEWS:MUNSTER WILL understand that Paul O’Connell’s name on the team sheet will instil something of the player into the squad even if Ireland’s towering secondrow has not played competitively since May.
His presence in the Munster shirt in their first round Heineken Cup match against Racing Metro in Stade de France tomorrow is as much as Rob Penney could have hoped for in a team that the coach freely admits is, stylistically, finding its way.
Penney may never have seen Felix Jones play before but Jones, too, makes a return this weekend. Injured in the same match as O’Connell, the pair coincidentally make their comeback at the same time, Jones named at fullback in the British and Irish Cup side for the game away to Plymouth Albion on Saturday.
Back and knee problems have beset O’Connell but having come through yesterday’s squad session, the 32-year-old has been named in Munster’s starting secondrow alongside Billy Holland, who is selected in place of the hamstrung Donncha O’Callaghan. O’Connell’s partner in crime over many campaigns with Munster and Ireland, O’Callaghan, sat out yesterday’s training session in Limerick and although hopeful of being fit was finally withdrawn from the squad.
“We’ve always maintained that he’d be back when he felt he was ready,” said Penney of O’Connell. “I think it’s great for us. It’s great for Irish rugby, for the rugby community to see a player of his calibre back playing again. It was a gradual process. In the interests of the player it had to be.”
Dave Kilcoyne retains the loosehead prop jersey in the absence of Wian du Preez, who sustained a knee injury against Leinster, while the experience of Donnacha Ryan was a factor in him getting the blindside berth ahead of Dave O’Callaghan who is named on the bench. The one unforced change in the backline sees Ian Keatley in at fullback instead of Denis Hurley who is named on the bench. Ronan O’Gara and Conor Murray are again the halfback partnership.
Opponents Racing, who have only sold 25,000 tickets for tomorrow’s clash at the Stade de France, may not start Juan Martin Hernandez, who only returned from Argentina earlier this week. With Mathieu Belie having joined Jonathan Wisniewski on an extensive injury list, a likelier option may be to start recent signing from Bath, Olly Barkley, at outhalf.
In Leinster Joe Schmidt’s main concern is fullback Rob Kearney. Kearney took part in training yesterday at their base in UCD and Schmidt is waiting to see how his back injury reacts to the work-out. There’s no real panic with Ian Madigan and Isa Nacewa available for that slot, Madigan showing promising attacking flair as well as some inexperience last week against Munster.
“I’d say he is still not a certainty by any means,” said Schmidt of Kearney. “Our plan would be not to run him in the captain’s run (today) so that he is ready for the game. We just don’t want him getting through a training (session) and then have him stiff or sore going into the game.
“Quietly confident but it is not something we know about until he turns up (this morning). If he gets any new bleeding or discomfort we may have to rule him out. Whatever we do we will be doing what is best for Rob Kearney because we know there are some important games coming up that we need to be conscious of.”
Schmidt continued to say that statistically, a player on average spends 17 per cent of his time playing injured and a team can bank on having 17 per cent of the squad unavailable. Leinster have around double that at the moment.
Leo Cullen and Devin Toner are available as is Tom Denton and Damian Browne. Cian Healy is also clear to compete, while Richardt Strauss returned last week with no ill effects. Leinster have the full frontrow available apart from Aaron Dundon who is still carrying a foot injury, while Kevin McLaughlin “took a full part in training, including the contact stuff” and said Schmidt “came through that with a smile on his face”.
MUNSTER(v Racing Metro): I Keatley; D Howlett (capt), C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; R OGara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, BJ Botha; B Holland, P O’Connell; D Ryan, S Dougall, P O’Mahony. Replacements: M Sherry, M Horan, S Archer, D O’Callaghan, P Butler, P Stringer, D Barnes, D Hurley.