O'Connell targets return for crucial Saracens ties
IT is hoped that Paul O'Connell will be available to Munster for their back-to-back Heineken Cup games against Saracens in December.
Munster play the English Premiership side in Limerick on December 8 and then at Vicarage Road a week later. No pressure is being put on the talismanic second-row to speed up his return but he is understood to have earmarked those games as a target.
The more pessimistic in the Munster camp are, however, fearful that it might be a month at least before he is ready to return, which would result in his missing those potentially season-defining games.
O'Connell's latest injury setback has been especially frustrating but is in keeping with a career that has been blighted by, often times, bizarre injuries.
The catalogue began with concussion just minutes into his first international appearance in 2002, and later that year he was out for five months because of a bulging disc.
Since then O'Connell has endured a series of injuries ranging from a broken thumb (2005) and a fractured thumb (2007), to the groin injury that almost derailed his entire career in 2010 and the medial ligament problem suffered against Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final last season.
That injury, of course, kept him out of the summer tour to New Zealand. His return was complicated (and delayed) by yet another back injury. But it is hoped that while O'Connell's Autumn Series is a washout, his season will not follow suit, especially as Munster's loss to Racing Metro in round one of the Heineken Cup has put them under immediate pressure to qualify from their pool.
In a positive development for Munster, both James Coughlan (groin) and Tommy O'Donnell (ankle) are expected to be back in contention inside the next two weeks.
Coughlan suffered a torn groin in Munster's game away to Ulster and has been on the injury list since early September, while O'Donnell suffered his injury in the Munster 'A' win over Leinster last week.
The former's return to fitness will be a major fillip for the province ahead of the Saracens encounters as they have struggled without his influence.
Peter O'Mahony has slotted into the No 8 position in his absence but he is more at home on the blindside and the Munster set-piece play has suffered without him.
The news isn't as positive with regard to Sean Dougall and Barry O'Mahony. Both players have been ruled out for the immediate term with knee and groin injuries respectively and no date on a possible return is known.
Meanwhile, Luke Fitzgerald is unlikely to feature for Leinster in their Pro12 clash with Glasgow in Scotland on Friday night but could instead return from his long-standing neck injury for the visit of Zebre on Saturday week. The Lions wing is ahead of schedule, having not been expected to return until close to the new year.
"Luke is less likely to be involved this week but a lot of that is to do with making sure we are not bringing someone back too early," confirmed Leinster team manager Guy Easterby.
"The work that the strength and conditioning people, the rehab coach and the physios have done has been superb – you have to give them great credit for that, as well as Luke himself."
Sean O'Brien, who has been out with a hip injury, is tipped to feature at some stage against the third-placed Scots, provided he comes through training this week without any adverse reaction.
O'Brien's return will be a considerable boost for a pack shorn of its six first-choice front-row players due to international commitments, while in the backs Eoin O'Malley is also in contention to start.
Leinster also reported that ticket sales for the upcoming Heineken Cup round-four clash against Clermont at Lansdowne Road on December 15, have passed the 33,000 mark.