Tadhg Beirne in contention for URC quarter-final

Munster forward sidelined since the Six Nations due to a thigh injury

Tadhg Beirne could be in line for a timely return to the Munster squad for their make-or-break URC quarter-final against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium next Friday night (kick-off 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports and TG4).

Beirne has been sidelined since the Six Nations, when he played every minute bar the last quarter against Italy, due to a thigh injury and so hasn’t played for Munster since their Champions Cup win over Wasps in January but he has increased his training load this week.

Similarly Andrew Conway’s availability will also be reviewed as the week advances following the knee injury he sustained in the defeat by Leinster last Saturday week.

“We just got off the training park and they completed the full session,” said assistant coach Stephen Larkham today. “It was a positive step for both of them. We have tomorrow off and we’ll train on Wednesday so we’ll make a decision after Wednesday for those two.”

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Furthermore Jean Kleyn and Neil Cronin have also returned to training this week after overcoming respective neck and ankle injuries, while Alex Kendellen is due to complete the return to play protocols this week after suffering concussion in that Leinster game.

In addition, Craig Casey and Stephen Archer are both in line for a return against Ulster after missing the Leinster game through illness, as are Peter O’Mahony (stinger), Damian de Allende (chest) and Simon Zebo (chest/rib).

Munster’s season now hinges on next Friday’s game after the contrasting disappointment of their exit in Europe at the quarter-final stages when losing a kicking competition against Toulouse after drawing 24-all over 100 minutes and then the 35-25 defeat by a second string Leinster which denied them a home quarter-final.

“For the game on Friday, we’re good,” said Larkham, but admitted: “It certainly has been tough, particularly the Toulouse loss. That was a tough week. We gave the boys the week off and we came back in the following week for the prep for Leinster but it was tough.

“There was a fair emotional toll on the players, we’d put a fair bit into that game, we’d been rolling really well into that game. Our preparation was good, we actually played some pretty good rugby as well. It was quite disappointing, it was hard to get over that but we’ve had four weeks since then really.

“We are sort of back into the full swing of things this week. Mentally we have recovered but it has been tough.”

Larkham admitted there was a vast gulf in the two Munster performances.

“We had a really good run-in there and we played exceptionally well,” he said of the European quarter-final. “Against Leinster, we just didn’t play well. We didn’t execute some of the stuff that we said we were going to execute. Our attention to detail wasn’t there. Mentally, our preparation wasn’t where it needed to be compared to previous weeks.”

“We can’t compare both equally. That Leinster performance is something that’s certainly disappointing. We’ve moved on and we’ve potentially three games in front of us now. We’ve been in finals preparations now for the last three or four games so we kind of know what it’s like and we’re putting everything into the game this weekend.”

Munster must emulate their win in the Kingspan Stadium - Ulster’s only home defeat in the URC this season - over five weeks ago to extend their season

“It comes down to preparation. We’ve had a couple of good meetings around our mindset. We addressed it going into that Leinster week, we didn’t play the way we wanted. We’ve reviewed that now and we’re putting everything behind us and making sure our prep is as good can be for this week.

“It seems to be back and forth against Ulster. Every time they play at Thomond Park we get up and every time we play up there they get up so it’s certainly going to be a challenge going up there with the challenge and the crowd and all that. That’s the disappointing thing out of that Leinster game, we had our chance not to be in this position.

“But our focus against Ulster is very similar to the last time we played against them. They’ve got a very good set-piece, both scrum and maul, particularly maul, we are very conscious of that. They are very good at the breakdown, they’ve got a really good tackle-completion percentage, best in the competition so they are very good defensively. They’ve got a very good kicking game as well.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times