Monday 22 May 2017

Munster bide time over fit-again Mafi

Lifeimi Mafi. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Lifeimi Mafi. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile

Hugh Farrelly

Despite making a full recovery after his shoulder operation last May, Lifeimi Mafi is not included in Munster's squad for Saturday's clash against the Ospreys and will line out instead for the 'A' team against Ulster Ravens on Friday.

The Tongan-born centre has not played any rugby since last season's Magners League semi-final defeat by Leinster but, along with Keith Earls, is expected to be fit and available for the opening rounds of the Heineken Cup next month.

Earls was up and about yesterday, showing no signs of discomfort as he walked around Thomond Park. He received an injection on Monday to help settle the ankle he strained in pre-season training and, although he won't participate in full training this week or next, Munster medics are confident that his recovery is on track.

With Barry Murphy still sidelined, the return of Mafi can't come soon enough for Munster, who have relied heavily on the versatility of Johne Murphy in recent weeks to help them overcome their mini midfield crisis.

Coach Tony McGahan named an unchanged squad yesterday for Saturday night's clash against the Ospreys at Thomond Park. The indications are that the match-day 23 will also remain unchanged, but there could be one or two alterations to the starting VX.

The Ospreys will arrive in Limerick in confident mood after completing a rare double over Munster last season. Wales out-half Dan Biggar was the star of the show as they recorded their first win at Thomond Park last April, and looks likely to once again spearhead their attack.

Leinster, meanwhile, expect Jonathan Sexton to be fit for their trip to Treviso. He injured a quad muscle while warming up before last Saturday's match against Cardiff Blues.

Shane Horgan and Shane Jennings are well on the way to overcoming back and foot injuries respectively, while centre Fergus McFadden has recovered from the head injury that forced his blood substitution at the RDS.

Encouraging

One of the most encouraging aspects to Leinster's bonus-point win over the Blues was the performance of the scrum. Although Cardiff's front-row substitutions made them a stiffer proposition in the second half, the home side were still dominant at scrum time, making it a good night for Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal, given the performances of Cian Healy and Mike Ross.

Healy tasted his first action of the season when introduced for Heinke van der Merwe with 20 minutes to go and the loose-head believes the work done by former All Blacks Greg Feek (scrum coach) and Jonno Gibbes (forwards coach) is paying dividends.

"We've put in a good bit of work in the pack on our togetherness as an eight," said Healy.

"It worked out a bit better for us last weekend than it did in the previous games and we can see what we want it to be. There has been a good focus on us (the pack) and we've tried to change a few things, such as our foot placement (at scrums) and stuff like that to work to our advantage.

"We've been doing a lot of one-on-one work with Greg Feek in the front row and the back-row have been working separately with each other, so it has been a case of players managing their own time and their own meetings and Jono has pushed that on us.

"He told us to get our act together and do our own work in the front row -- the back-rows and the second-rows will meet up separately -- and that has been really working out for us."

Meanwhile, Andrew Trimble is set to make an earlier than expected return from injury after being included in the Ulster squad for Friday night's clash against Edinburgh at Ravenhill.

The Ireland winger/centre has recovered from the finger surgery he underwent during the summer and he is named alongside captain Rory Best and prop BJ Botha, back in Belfast after the Tri Nations, in a 27-man squad.

Irish Independent

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