Munster seal sponsor deal but O'Connell out
Munster were given a timely boost ahead of the coming season yesterday as Toyota announced details of their continued partnership with the club, declaring a new sponsorship deal worth €5.75m over the next three seasons.
"Today is about announcing good news in what are difficult times," beamed Munster chief executive Gareth Fitzgerald from Thomond Park, as he reflected upon a deal that brings Toyota's investment to well beyond the €13m mark since coming on board as principal sponsors in July 2004. The contract also includes a continuation of its incentive-based package related to progression through to the final stages of the Heineken Cup and Magners League.
The good news was offset, however, with confirmation that Paul O'Connell is unlikely to play any rugby until next December as he continues to work his way back from a groin injury.
O'Connell -- who is named, once again, as captain for the season -- explained yesterday that while he is able to run, he still has some way to go before he can think about a return to competitive action, saying: "I'll be setting my sights around December, and anything else would be a bonus."
Head coach Tony McGahan declined to reveal who would step in as vice-captain until then, though it seems likely that Ronan O'Gara and Mick O'Driscoll will once again deputise.
According to McGahan, everyone should be available for selection by round 2 of the Magners League when Munster travel to Murrayfield to take on Edinburgh. He also indicated that strict player embargoes would be in place this season on account of next year's World Cup, meaning less game time for his international contingent.
"It's difficult to put a time frame on things, but overall the senior group could miss about 50 or 60pc of the Magners League," said McGahan.
"There are a couple of different levels of players who need different game time, but, at the end of the day, the best interests of the players will be put forward in what is a very busy schedule with international and domestic rugby."
The same restrictions are unlikely to apply to Denis Leamy, who will captain Munster this evening when they take on Leicester Tigers in Musgrave Park in the first of their two pre-season challenge matches.
The Tipperaryman has successfully battled back from a career-threatening knee injury sustained against Perpignan last December.
"I think I probably need to play as many games as I possibly can," he said. "There's a block of eight or 10 (Munster) games in a row. I probably wouldn't play every one of them but I'd probably play a good share of them."
As for captaining his side for the first time, Leamy added: "I'm trying to talk it down a small bit but it's great to be back with the lads, to be honest. You feel very much on the outside when you're injured, so it's great to be back and to captain the side is special for me."
Elsewhere, Felix Jones and Darragh Hurley also return after missing the latter stages of last season through injury, while summer signing Sam Tuitupou earns his first start in red.
Leinster welcome back Luke Fitzgerald and Sean O'Brien, for this evening's Donnybrook friendly against Wasps. Puma second-row Mariano Galarza will debut from the bench.
"Mariano has made a real impression for Argentina since his senior international debut and we are pleased to have secured his signature as cover until the end of January," said Leinster's new manager Guy Easterby.
Munster -- S Deasy; D Hurley, D Barnes, S Tuitupou, I Dowling; P Warwick, D Williams; W du Preez, D Fogarty, S Archer; B Holland, D Foley; D Ryan, T O'Donnell, D Leamy capt. Reps: M Sherry, D Ryan, D Hurley, I Nagle, J Coughlan, C Murray, C Hircock, F Jones, S Zebo, P Butler, P O'Mahony.