Munster boost as O'Connell returns


Rugby:Ireland secondrow Paul O’Connell will make a surprise early return to action with Munster for their opening Heineken Cup game against Racing Metro at Stade de France on Saturday.

O’Connell, who turns 33 on October 20th, has been out of action with knee and back problems since the beginning of May after picking up a knee injury in a Pro12 game against Ulster. He also missed the second half of the Six Nations campaign and the summer tour to New Zealand.

O’Connell came through yesterday's Munster squad session and will pack down alongside Billy Holland, who is named in place of the Donncha O’Callaghan, who has a hamstring injury.

Donnacha Ryan moves back to blindside flanker after starting in the secondrow in last weekend’s Pro12 loss to Leinster, with Dave O’Callaghan moving to the bench.

Elsewhere in the pack, Dave Kilcoyne retains the loosehead spot in the absence of Wian du Preez, who sustained a knee injury against Leinster.

The one unforced change in the backline sees Ian Keatley in at fullback instead of Denis Hurley who is named on the bench, while James Downey taking over from the injured Keith Earls in the centre. Casey Laulala will move to outside centre to accommodate Downey at number 12.

Speaking of O’Connell's inclusion, Munster coach Rob Penney felt it prudent to wait until O’Connell had “reported in” today following the session yesterday before making a decision about his participation or not.

“We've always maintained that he'd be back when he felt he was ready. 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.”

There is also a welcome return to Munster colours for Felix Jones after he was named at fullback for the British and Irish Cup game away to Plymouth Albion on Saturday.

Jones was also injured in the game against Ulster at the beginning of May. Coach Ian Costello has rung the changes from the side that were beaten by Connacht last time out and it includes a host of players with plenty of Pro12 experience.

Duncan Williams and Scott Deasy were the starting halves when Munster won the title with victory over Cross Keys last season and along with Ian Nagle and Tommy O'Donnell have a wealth of League experience to call on, while two of Munster's World Cup under-20 squad, JJ Hanrahan and Shane Buckley, are also among the starting XV.

Munster (v Racing Metro):Ian Keatley; Doug Howlett (capt), Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Paul O'Connell, Donncha Ryan, Sean Dougall, Peter O'Mahony.

Replacements:Mick Sherry, Marcus Horan, Stephen Archer, Dave O'Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Peter Stringer, Danny Barnes, Denis Hurley.

Munster ‘A’ (v Plymouth Albion):Felix Jones; Ronan O'Mahony, Cian Bohane, JJ Hanrahan, Corey Hircock; Scott Deasy, Duncan Williams; John Ryan, Sean Henry capt, Alan Cotter; Ian Nagle, Brian Hayes; Shane Buckley, Barry O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell.

Replacements:Duncan Casey, Christy Condon, Phil Donnellan, S Rennison, Cathal Sheridan, AN Other, Johnny Holland

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