O'Connell targets December for return to action


MUNSTER NEWS:PAUL O’CONNELL will again captain Munster for the coming season but is unlikely to be back on the playing field until December.

The 30-year-old lock has been sidelined since picking up a groin infection last March, and though able to participate in light training, he admits he is almost certain to miss out on Munster’s opening Heineken Cup exchanges as well as Ireland’s autumn international series.

O’Connell was in Limerick yesterday as Toyota announced the extension of their partnership with Munster, a deal worth €5.75 million over the next three years.

And the Limerickman has resigned himself to spending another three months on the sidelines. “I’ll be setting my sights around December, and anything else would be a bonus,” said O’Connell. “I went back running 10 days ago, and I’ve had no problems. I need to go about 12 weeks from when I stopped the antibiotics and get back into the heavy stuff, so I’m about eight and a half weeks into that now. It’s flying along at the moment. It was really slow at the start, but it’s getting quicker now and going very well.”

Fit-again Denis Leamy will captain Munster in their first game of the season against Leicester Tigers at Musgrave Park tonight. Leamy has successfully battled back from a career-threatening knee injury sustained against Perpignan last December and is delighted to be involved again.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Leamy, who last skippered a side as a UCC backrower in 2002. “I’m trying to talk it down a small bit but it’s great to be back with the lads, to be honest.

“You miss being with the core group. You feel very much on the outside when you’re injured and rehabbing, so it’s great to be back and to captain the side is special for me as well. I know it’s a pre-season game but it’s a big deal for me, definitely.”

Elsewhere, Felix Jones makes his long-awaited return to action after recovering from a horrific neck injury picked up against Connacht last December.

The former Leinster Academy player is included on a 12-man Munster bench for tonight’s game, and head coach Tony McGahan is looking forward to seeing Jones build on his promising potential.

“Felix has been brilliant the way he has approached his injuries. He’s been one of our most dedicated trainers. His professionalism to all facets of being a rugby professional have been excellent, and he’s certainly been a leader in that regard.

“He’s left no stone unturned to make sure he’s fit for the start of the season. He’s an ambitious young man, and he’s certainly put himself in a position to make a case to be in the starting team for the opening game in Musgrave Park in two weeks.

“We are expecting big things from him,” concluded McGahan. “We were disappointed last season that he didn’t get the chance to shine due to injury. But everyone is excited for him and looking forward to seeing him play over the next two weeks.”

MUNSTER:S Deasy; D Hurley, D Barnes, S Tuitupou, I Dowling; P Warwick, D Williams; W du Preez, D Fogarty, S Archer, B Holland, D Foley, D Ryan, T O’Donnell, D Leamy. Replacements: M Sherry, D Ryan, D Hurley, I Nagle, J Coughlan, C Murray, C Hircock, F Jones, S Zebo, P Butler, P O’Mahony.

CONNACHT (v Saracens, Tomorrow, 6.30pm, Sportsground, Galway):T OHalloran; T Nathan, N Taauso, E Griffin, F Carr; M Nikora, F Murphy; R Loughney, A Flavin, J Hagan, M Swift, B Upton, A Browne, R Ofisa, E Taylor. Replacements: D Murphy, R Sweeney, B Wilkinson, D Nolan, D Buckley, M McComish, S Conneely, C Willis, I Keatley, S Monahan, D Fanning, A Kennedy, A Wynne.