Thursday 22 February 2018

Munster denied dream New York clash as Sarries plan falls through

Paul O'Connell: in line for first start of the season tomorrow against Racing Metro in Paris
Paul O'Connell: in line for first start of the season tomorrow against Racing Metro in Paris

David Kelly and Ruaidhri O'Connor

MUNSTER have been denied the opportunity to be part of the first Heineken Cup match to be staged in New York.

The province -- for whom Paul O'Connell will make a shock first start of the season tomorrow against Racing Metro in Paris -- confirmed that they were informally approached by Saracens with a view to moving their December 15 pool clash to the 'Big Apple'.

The province responded positively, but logistical difficulties prevented the move from taking place. The match would have been held at the 82,500-capacity MetLife Stadium, home of New York's NFL teams the Giants and the Jets, but the challenge of erecting rugby posts in the artificial turf at the redeveloped Giants Stadium was one that could not be overcome.

"We are in a unique position this season because our new stadium is not ready," Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths explained. "I went to New York in July and looked at the MetLife Stadium. We looked at the size of the pitch and it came down in the end to the fact that we would need to put rugby posts into the artificial turf.

"The owners of the two NFL teams didn't want that."

"It was disappointing. My feeling was if we had been able to play there, we would have had a great occasion," added Griffiths.

"The indication from Munster too was that they would be eager to receive a proposal. I think they had worked out that, for an Irish team to go to New York, it made quite a lot of sense."

Meanwhile, Munster received a big boost when head coach Rob Penney was able to name O'Connell in the side for the opening Heineken Cup clash against Racing Metro.

"We've always maintained that he'd be back when he felt he was ready," declared the Kiwi coach of the second-row's shock return to action.

"I think it's great for us. It's great for Irish rugby and for the rugby community to see a player of his calibre back playing again."

Penney is likely to go with Ronan O'Gara at out-half, with Ian Keatley set to be named at full-back instead of Denis Hurley. The injury to prop Wian du Preez sees Dave Kilcoyne start at loosehead.

O'Connell will lock down alongside Billy Holland as Donncha O'Callaghan's hamstring injury has failed to recover in time, while Donnacha Ryan edges Dave O'Callaghan from the back-row.

Midfield duo James Downey and Casey Laulala team up in the absence of groin injury victim Keith Earls.

Irish Independent

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