More injury woes for O'Connell


Munster and Ireland lock Paul O'Connell is likely to be out of commission for six weeks, thereby missing Munster's final two pool matches in the Heineken European Cup against Perpignan and Gloucester, and possibly Ireland's opening Six Nations Championship match against Scotland in Murrayfield next month.

O'Connell broke his thumb in Munster's 42-10 victory over Ulster in Friday night's Celtic League semi-final at Thomond Park, a terrible blow for the promising young second row who has only recently returned from a long standing injury. He will undergo surgery today with the digit immobilised in a cast.

His place in the Munster side is likely to be taken by Cork Constitution's Mick O'Driscoll for the Perpignan match.

A further blow to coach Alan Gaffney is that wing Anthony Horgan, who also retired prematurely from the Ulster match, will also miss this week's trip to France because of his hamstring injury.

He may be rehabilitated in time for the Gloucester game the following weekend. Mossie Lawlor is the likely deputy.

Ulster, too, suffered several injuries to exacerbate a spiralling casualty list. Already without Ryan Constable, Jonathan Bell and Tyrone Howe prior to the match, Bryn Cunningham, Sheldon Coulter, Warren Brosnihan and Adam Larkin sustained problems, with Brosnihan (eight weeks, broken hand) and Larkin (three weeks, concussion) definitely out of the Cardiff match.

Loosehead prop Justin Fitzpatrick, sent off in the Munster game for punching, will also miss the trip to Wales. Leinster and Ireland fullback Girvan Dempsey is rated doubtful for his province's European Cup match against Swansea after picking up a hip injury against Connacht last Friday.

Connacht coach Steph Nel must await injury reports on Eric Elwood, Johnny O'Connor, Darren Yapp, Mick Swift and Marnus Uijs ahead of Friday night's Parker Pen Challenge Cup quarter-final first leg against Pontypridd at Ericsson Park (5.30).

Meanwhile, former Connacht and Ireland coach Warren Gatland has backed Gloucester's imperious home form to see them finish top of the English Premiership pile this season.

Gatland saw his Wasps side beaten 24-17 at Kingsholm on Saturday, a result which extended Gloucester's unbeaten home league record to almost 16 months. Gloucester's 11th win of the campaign leaves them eight points clear at the top.