O'Connell making slow progress with injury but Penney hopeful of return for key Saracens fixtures

 

Paul O’Connell’s return to action for Munster remains unknown, although coach Rob Penney has not ruled him out of featuring in the crucial back-to-back Heineken Cup games against Saracens this month.

Penney said the back injury which has confined O’Connell’s involvement this season to just the two Heineken Cup matches against Racing Metro and Edinburgh is frustrating, but that nothing could be done and he just does not know when the former Munster, Ireland and Lions captain will return.

Penney said again that the nature of the injury has meant it is impossible to put a timeline on when O’Connell, who did not train with the squad in Limerick yesterday, will return but confirmed that he will not be available this weekend against Glasgow Warriors.

“Paul will be ready when he is ready. It is that same line coming out. He is making slow progress . . . we haven’t even thought about Saracens yet, but miracles can happen. But it is an unpredictable injury . . . It could just linger on or be a nuisance too. It is frustrating for everybody,” said Penney.

Conor Murray sat out training at UL yesterday and is not expected to feature as Munster try to get back on track against Glasgow at Thomond Park having gone down 13-6 in Musgrave Park to Scarlets. “Conor has had a lot of footie in the last three weeks . . . He has had a little soreness in his knee and didn’t take part in any run out. It is highly likely he won’t play given the work load he has had already,” added Penney.

The Munster coach said his Irish internationals would be available for six of the next eight matches and the key was to find the right mix over that period. He said the success of Simon Zebo, in particular, at fullback for Ireland and Keith Earls at outside centre increased his options and he confirmed Munster were not under pressure from the Irish management to select them in particular positions. “It is up to us . . . but we are endeavouring to help Irish rugby achieve what it needs to. We talk a lot and we’ll endeavour to meet their needs where we can, but we also need to be conscious of the needs of our team. Hopefully can meet everyone’s needs.”

The Kiwi said the November internationals had been very good for Munster and that they will benefit from it. “I think it was exciting Donnacha Ryan had such a dominant performance in that last Test. I thought Peter O’Mahony really came on and had a big influence on the tough, robust aspects of that game. And out the back we were really happy with Conor Murray and Keith Earls playing so well,” said Penney, who was delighted with the way Zebo took his chance at fullback.

“When a guy like that gets an opportunity and comes through as well as he has it is wonderful for everyone involved. He has created another positional option for us. Every time they get put against world class opposition like that it is an opportunity . . . also for some of the younger blokes to grow . . . out of the fact they can play at that level,” he said.

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