Boost for Munster and Ireland as O'Connell poised for return
IRISH rugby received a massive boost yesterday with confirmation that talismanic second-row Paul O'Connell will return to action tomorrow night after 250 days on the sidelines.
O'Connell is due to turn out for Young Munster in their All-Ireland League clash with Shannon at Thomond Park, his first competitive rugby involvement since damaging his groin in Ireland's Six Nations defeat to Scotland on March 20.
It has been a long road back for the Munster man, whose rehabilitation was complicated by diagnosis difficulties, but his return four weeks ahead of schedule will be a huge relief to Declan Kidney and an Ireland side which has lost six out of seven outings in O'Connell's absence.
O'Connell only returned to full-contact training three weeks ago and, if he comes through tomorrow's match with no complications, could come into the mix for Munster's Magners League meeting with Cardiff on Saturday week and their Heineken Cup back-to-back assignments with the Ospreys on December 12 and 18.
The 31-year-old has not played for the province since their 12-9 victory over Northampton on January 22 and Munster manager Shaun Payne said the second-row is "bursting" to be involved again.
"We're delighted with the progress he's making," said Payne.
"Obviously, Paulie is delighted. There is nothing worse for him than having to sit on the sidelines and watch. It's been a very frustrating time for him since last year's Six Nations. But now he's bursting to get back into it.
"He's had no more set-backs over the last couple of months and his return is a good four weeks ahead of schedule. This weekend will be another step and if he progresses past that, then Cardiff will be the next step."