O'Connell expected to feature


RUGBY NEWS:LEINSTER ARE braced for a December without three current Lions just as Munster are primed to finally welcome back Paul O’Connell after nine months on the sidelines. O’Connell should feature against Cardiff in Limerick on Saturday having come through training yesterday and playing 40 minutes for Young Munster against Shannon last Friday night.

In contrast, Leinster’s backline options are seriously reduced with Andrew Conway and Brian O’Driscoll joining Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney on the injury list.

Kearney is the most problematic case. Following a knee injury against New Zealand, the 24-year- old fullback underwent surgery last week and is unlikely to return to action ahead of the Six Nations.

Fitzgerald’s second knee injury in 12 months, also sustained against the All Blacks, sees him ruled out for six weeks ensuring Isa Nacewa will be Leinster’s fullback for the back-to-back meetings against Clermont Auvergne this month.

Conway initially hurt his neck playing for Leinster A and damaged it again on Sunday against the Ospreys but the injury’s diagnosis has now been downgraded to a spasm and there is even a chance he could feature in round four of the Heineken Cup.

More information on O’Driscoll’s fractured jaw should be forthcoming today but he is a definite non-starter in Llanelli on Friday or in Clermont on December 12th as Leinster coach Joe Schmidt struggles to prepare a team with just a five-day turnover.

Seán O’Brien will return, having been stuck in no man’s land last weekend when acting as cover for the Irish squad, but other frontline internationals like Jamie Heaslip, Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy and Gordon D’Arcy could be rested until Leinster visit Clermont on December 12th.

Eoin Reddan and Devin Toner should return immediately but Nathan Hines is grounded in Scotland. Shaun Berne and Richardt Strauss are also expected to come straight back into the side after their rest week.

The problem for Schmidt is the lack of an adequate indoor facility to prepare for the Clermont matches.

“It is impossible to get out training. There is no indoor facility available so it means we are restricted to planning and unable to do any physical preparation ahead of the Scarlets match this Friday.

“(In Clermont, his former club) they get a fair bit of snow as well but they have a very good indoor facility. They have a 200 metre running track and the interior of that is very useful.”

For Munster, O’Connell should be joined by Ronan O’Gara, Keith Earls and Denis Leamy with Tomás O’Leary probably holding off Peter Stringer at scrumhalf as coach Tony McGahan strives to field a side similar to that likely to take the field against the Ospreys on Sunday week.

Marcus Horan (broken bone in hand) and Jerry Flannery are still absent but Donnacha Ryan is due back from suspension, while the other returning Irish players have confirmed their fitness.

Connacht face Aironi in Galway this Friday without Eoin Griffin (broken finger), Niva Ta’Auso (cheek), Adrian Wynne (Thumb) and Ray Ofisa (eye socket).

This game will come just hours after the IRFU and Connacht Branch provide details of the long-term future of the professional game in the province via a planned “major announcement” in Galway on Friday afternoon.

Ruan Pienaar returns from Springbok duty for Ulster’s game against the Dragons at Ravenhill on Friday but fellow South African Johann Muller remains out due to a neck injury. Andrew Trimble, Stephen Ferris and Tom Court are included in a 27-man panel.

  • A new batch of tickets for the World Cup have been made available to buy at www.rugbyworldcup.com/tickets since 10pm last night.