Donncha O’Callaghan ruled out while Keith Earls remains a doubt for Munster’s trip to France

Rob Penney reignites war of words with Joe Schmidt over Paul O’Connell’s kick

Munster head coach Rob Penney.  Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Munster head coach Rob Penney. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho


The normally indestructible Donncha O’Callaghan has been ruled out of Munster’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont this Saturday, and with Doug Howlett still sidelined, Keith Earls’ prospects of recovering from the dislocated shoulder he sustained in Ireland’s Six Nations finale in Rome remain in doubt.

Keith Earls is marginal, he’d probably be 60/40 at this point,” said Rob Penney yesterday.

“There is a call to be made before we travel on Friday.”

Were Earls, who has only managed light contact work to date, declared fit, he is likely to return on the right wing ahead of Denis Hurley. Otherwise, Penney will most likely field the same starting XV as for the win against Harlequins.

Prior to the introduction of a fresh frontrow en bloc in the 76th minute that day, O’Callaghan had been Munster’s only replacement, having been brought on approaching the last 10 minutes. O’Callaghan has missed only one of Munster’s last 67 Heineken Cup matches – this season’s opener away to Racing Metro – dating back to the start of the 2004-05 campaign.

With Stephen Archer (wrist) also ruled out, this is likely to mean prop John Ryan and lock Billy Holland will be promoted to a callow looking bench.

Penney also expressed slight concerns over Peter O’Mahony, although you’d imagine it would take more than “a sore foot” to keep the hardy Corkman out and he himself was “very confident” of playing.

Last Saturday, in their record-equalling 59th victory in a row at home to Toulouse, Clermont motored into a 25-3 lead by half-time to win pulling up in the second half.

“As soon as they have a semblance of an opportunity they just ramp up their intensity massively,” said Penney.

Of some consolation is that Clermont will also be playing in Montpellier’s Stade de la Mosson for the first time, albeit with 20,000-plus supporters making the three-hour trek. Asked how much of a factor this might be, Penney smiled and said: “Depends how many of the Red Army turn up I suppose.”

The best way to “nullify” Clermont’s support, he said, was “to create pressure”, adding: “pressure does funny things. You never know what the outcome can be of building consistent pressure over time to individuals and groups. That will be part of what we’ll try to do.”

Penney worked alongside his counterpart on Saturday, Vern Cotter, as part of the coaching ticket which guided the Crusaders to the 2005 Super Rugby title. “He was fundamentally the forwards coach and I did the lineouts and some other bits and pieces. He’s a good bloke and a quality coach. He’s certainly done well in the French environment which is not an easy one.”

Not that they appear to be similar in their coaching outlook. “No, I don’t think so. I mean, rugby coaches are rugby coaches. We had some great discussions about stuff and it was an interesting time.”

War of words
Nor had the war of words with his Leinster counterpart Joe Schmidt dimmed in the light of Paul O’Connell not being cited for the kick that left Dave Kearney unconscious. Indeed, Penney may merely have stoked the embers yesterday.

“I think there was a mention about people outside of rugby watching that. I’m not sure was it attributed to Joe. Look, Paulie has probably done more for the game in Ireland than anybody. For the young kids that are loving the game it’s on the back of a lot of what’s he done. So I was sort of a wee bit taken aback by just that one reference to it putting people off the game.

“A guy of Paulie’s ilk and what he does around the community and for people in the wider community, people in hospital and young people with illnesses and so forth, it’s just unheralded really.

“Otherwise I can understand what Joe is saying about wanting to protect his player . . . And hopefully they feel under a bit of heat now because Munster is on the rise and he’s trying to put some ammunition back this way to put pressure on alternative areas outside of the game itself. There might be a bit of gamesmanship too intertwined with some real concern and thoughtfulness around his player and his need to support him, which I can understand.”