Saints optimistic over Hartley return
Published 06/04/2010 | 05:00
NORTHAMPTON expect to have captain Dylan Hartley available for Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final showdown with Munster at Thomond Park.
The England hooker missed Saturday's win at Leeds, which keeps the Saints on track for a home draw in the Guinness Premiership play-offs, but Northampton are confident Hartley will start on Saturday having recovered from the wrist injury he sustained against Wasps on March 27.
However, Jim Mallinder's side, who narrowly failed to beat Munster in their pool clash at Thomond in January, have had their preparations disrupted by the ongoing contract dispute over Soane Tonga'uiha.
The Tongan prop agreed to join Saracens on a five-year deal in February but last week the Saints announced the 28-year-old had signed a three-year contract to stay. With both clubs claiming binding contracts, Premier Rugby will give a ruling on the matter on Thursday.
Mallinder has denied that the row was the reason behind Tonga'uiha not making the starting XV against Leeds but implied that Brian Mujati is in line to start ahead of him again in Limerick. This would be welcome news for Munster as Tonga'uiha has been the form prop in England.
The key selection for Mallinder is who to pick at out-half. Shane Geraghty inspired the Saints to their home win over Munster in October but has only started three of their 10 league matches since returning from England duty after the November internationals. Geraghty gave a mixed display at Thomond and Steven Myler has established himself as the first-choice No 10 and, with Northampton winning nine of their last 10 Premiership matches, is favourite to start on Saturday.
Despite injury concerns, Clermont are confident they will have out-half Brock James and second-row Jamie Cudmore available for their trip to Dublin to take on Leinster on Friday.
Connacht coach Michael Bradley is sweating on a string of injury worries ahead of Saturday's Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final against Bourgoin at the Sportsground.
Captain John Muldoon (groin injury) is one of a host of front-line players who are struggling for full fitness. Centres Niva Ta'auso (knee) and Keith Matthews (hamstring), both of whom missed the Edinburgh win, are doubtful along with winger Liam Bibo (calf). Prop Robbie Morris (calf), No.8 George Naoupu (hamstring) and flanker Ray Ofisa (vertigo) are also concerns.