Key players missing for Munster and Leinster

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MAGNERS LEAGUE:MUNSTER AND Leinster will be without a number of key players ahead of Sunday’s final round of matches in the Magners League. Defending champions Munster travel to Cardiff without long-term injury victim and captain Paul O’Connell, Mick O’Driscoll, Ian Dowling and Doug Howlett.

O’Driscoll’s ankle injury, suffered in last Sunday’s defeat by Biarritz, means coach Tony McGahan is short of secondrow options in the continuing absence of O’Connell and Donnacha Ryan. The Australian must decide whether to ask flanker Billy Holland to fill in, as he has done this season, or possibly turn to Nick Williams or Alan Quinlan to shift from their more familiar backrow positions.

Wings Howlett and Dowling missed the game in San Sebastian, and although they were expected to be included for the trip to Cardiff, neither has managed to recover in time.

Leinster will be without Shane Jennings, who he rolled his ankle in the defeat to Toulouse last weekend. And although named in the extended 29-man squad, Jonathan Sexton is likely to be given more time to recover from his damaged jaw, sustained in the Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Clermont Auvergne.

Seán O’Brien returns to the squad after recovering from a broken leg, while Kevin McLaughlin, Stan Wright and Jamie Heaslip, who picked up knocks in Toulouse, have also been included. Bernard Jackman drops out and is replaced by Richardt Strauss.

Leinster backs coach Alan Gaffney explained: “Yeah, he (Sexton) is pretty close. He got pretty close last weekend but we have just got to consider what the specialist says this week. Sexton trained (yesterday), fully trained. There wasn’t any contact, but Jonny did the whole session. Whether he eventually plays at the weekend remains to be seen, but we will be guided by the specialist and the consultants.

“Seán (O’Brien) trained for the majority of the session; he pulled out in the last five minutes or so but that was fine. His bad ankle, so to speak, was fine.”

Gaffney emphasised that while disappointed to lose at the weekend, there is a resolve within the squad to go on to try to win the Magners League. Anything else would be hugely anti-climactic.

He also confessed he would like to see the Heineken Cup semi-finals being played on a home and away basis rather than have the venue decided by the toss of a coin.

“We have always accepted that that is the way it is. When you don’t draw well, obviously you don’t think it is a particularly good way of deciding it. You know, home and away, if there were enough weeks in the competition obviously it would be a great way to go, or I think it would be.

“But, you know, where do you fit those games in? Particularly next year with the additional four Magners League games, and this year obviously with the semi-finals and finals being thrown in, it has cleaned up a couple of extra weekends. I think the French would obviously say things about that: their agenda is fairly tight as it is.

“But to be truthful, with a competition of the standing that it is, I think home and away semi-final and final could be quite justified. If you look at the fact that Munster have qualified first and have got to play an away semi-final, there is no justification for that.”

MUNSTER SQUAD: M Horan, T Buckley, J Brugnaut, D Ryan, J Hayes, D Varley, J Flannery, D Fogarty, B Holland, D O’Callaghan, A Quinlan, D Wallace, N Williams, J Coughlan, N Ronan, T O’Leary, P Stringer, R O’Gara, P Warwick, L Mafi, J De Villiers, D Barnes, Denis Hurley, K Earls, S Deasy, T Gleeson.

LEINSTER SQUAD: L Cullen, J Fogarty, C Healy, J Heaslip, N Hines, Stephen Keogh, K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, M O’Kelly, M Ross, R Ruddock, D Ryan, R Strauss, CJ van der Linde, S Wright, S Berne, G D’Arcy, G Dempsey, S Horgan, R Kearney, Simon Keogh, I Madigan, F McFadden, I Nacewa, P O’Donohoe, B O’Driscoll, E O’Malley, E Reddan, J Sexton.

CONNACHT SQUAD: Backs: F Carr, G Duffy, I Keatley, F Murphy, T Nathan, M Nikora, C O’Loughlin, N Ta’auso, B Tuohy, A Wynne. Forwards: A Browne, S Cronin, A Flavin, J Hagan, R Loughney, M McCarthy, M McComish, R Morris, J Muldoon, G Naoupu, J O’Connor, B Upton.

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