Burke the right man to call on

 

Munster's acquisition of Paul Burke last summer is now looking like the transfer coup of the millennium. With Ronan O'Gara ruled out of the Heineken European Cup clash against Biarritz in San Sebastian next Sunday, Burke will slot into the pivotal outhalf role.

O'Gara injured ligaments in his right knee during Friday's 24-8 Celtic League win over the Gwent Dragons when he collided with flanker Jamie Ringer. This is the third time O'Gara has been hit by injury in the last 10 months.

He missed Munster's final pool four tie against Harlequins in January after breaking a bone in his right hand. Burke stepped in but the lack of a bonus point for tries scored ensured an away tie in the last eight.

Munster also missed their international outhalf last May when he was forced off in the first half of the European Cup semi-final against Wasps at Lansdowne Road. That day, no out-and-out replacement was on hand forcing Jason Holland into the position. The New Zealander did kick his goals that day but Munster ensured such an occurrence wouldn't happen again.

"It's very handy having Burkie there," said coach Alan Gaffney, "but Ronan's recovery process could be shorter than three to four weeks. We'll just see how it comes along day by day. It's just a strain so it could be right quicker."

Denis Leamy, meanwhile, looks likely to be available, as he appears to have recovered from the hamstring strain suffered five weeks back. "Yeah, he should be available," added Gaffney. "Only problem is he has been out since February 20th but he has been jogging and will stretch the hamstring out early this week. Either way, we have a strong backrow."

Samoan international Brian Lima flexed his muscles in the Munster gym for the first time yesterday and gives Gaffney another option at centre, wing or fullback.

On the Leinster front, Brian O'Driscoll has been declared fit but a decision on Gordon D'Arcy (hamstring) and Shane Horgan (thumb) will be put off until after tomorrow's training session.

"Shane is physically in shape and has been able to do a lot of training so it's just case of his thumb healing in time," explained Leinster manager Paul McNaughton. "But in the case of Gordon we will give him as long as possible to get him right. We would still hope to name a team on Wednesday."

Leinster's opponents on Saturday, Leicester, lost 23-22 to the Leeds Tykes yesterday with practically a full-strength line-up as only Lewis Moody was on the bench.

Connacht's Challenge Cup opponents, the Sale Sharks, also lost 20-22 to Wasps on Friday night but, significantly, outhalf Charlie Hodgson was taken off injured early in the second half.

Connacht want the ERC to carry out an investigation into why they have had to forfeit playing the first leg of their European Challenge Cup semi-final away from home. The province are up in arms over the ERC's decision to make them play Saturday's first leg in Galway after serious concerns have arisen about the circumstances which led to them having to forfeit playing the first leg away from home.

Sale Sharks informed the ERC that their venue was unavailable because Stockport County, the primary users of the stadium, had a football match on the same day.

Sale told the ERC they had put pressure on Stockport County to change their League One clash with Brentford, but Stockport County told them they were not able to achieve this.

However, the Football League say that they were not approached by Stockport County about having their match with Brentford changed.