Tuesday 28 February 2017

Fit-again O’Connell set for return to Heineken Cup action

David Kelly

David Kelly

Munster talisman Paul O'Connell looks set to play some part in thegame against Ospreys on Sunday
Munster talisman Paul O'Connell looks set to play some part in thegame against Ospreys on Sunday

PAUL O’CONNELL may be fit and raring for a return to the Heineken Cup with Munster after his eight-month injury nightmare, but he doesn’t believe he deserves a place in Tony McGahan’s starting line-up.

As the Ospreys reel from the news that broken thumb victim Lee Byrne will miss the crunch double-header after going AWOL from a crucial medical check-up with his national side, Munster are in rude health for the back-to-back clashes.

“I’m not too sure at the moment, really,” O’Connell replied when asked whether he might be considered ready for a starting berth this weekend.

The 2009 Lions captain has compiled only 40 minutes for Young Munster and a late cameo from the bench for Munster last weekend during his belated comeback from a troublesome pubic bone infection.

“That would be up to the physios and the coaches really. At the moment coming off the bench is ideal for me, and clocking up minutes that way is ideal for me.”

Mick O’Driscoll and Donncha O’Callaghan have formed a sturdy second-row partnership for Munster – and indeed Ireland – during O’Connell’s prolonged absence, while Donnacha Ryan’s return from a three week suspension broadens the options for head coach McGahan.

“I think I would struggle to get into the team at the moment,” O’Connell admitted. “I think there’s a level of second-row performance there from the lads and I think I need to get my fitness and my sharpness back to that level.

“I don’t think I’ll be needed to start, but if I was I don’t think I would have a problem with it. I may struggle for 80 minutes, but I wouldn’t struggle to start.”

Meanwhile, the Ospreys are confident of overcoming on appeal the two-week suspension handed to breakdown specialist Marty Holah following his trip on Edinburgh’s Chris Paterson during last weekend’s Magners League win.

Holah would be a huge loss for the Welsh side, especially as the furore grows within Wales at Byrne’s controversial absence from a Welsh RFU medical appointment, with his own club publicly haranguing the fullback for going AWOL.

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