Munster hunting 'high-profile' star
Marcus Horan looks set to start his first game for Munster in four months on Friday, having been included in Tony McGahan's 25-man squad for the Magners League clash with Edinburgh in Cork.
The loosehead prop, who underwent a medical procedure in the aftermath of his withdrawal against Treviso in October, is being put through his paces in Lanzarote as part of Munster's week-long warm-weather camp.
He will return with the rest of the squad tonight. "Marcus is very likely to feature," confirmed team manager Shaun Payne. "We are delighted that he has managed to overcome his ailments. There was a time when there was considerable doubt about where his career was going.
"Before the Treviso game, he hadn't been feeling well for quite a while, and he couldn't quite put his finger on it. But now he is getting fitter and fitter each week, and improving. I know within himself he is feeling a lot better."
Payne also revealed that Munster would be looking to sign another "high-profile" centre to replace Jean de Villiers following the Springbok's decision to head back to South Africa in advance of next year's World Cup.
Despite a stated desire to have as many Irish-qualified players as possible at the province, it seems likely that Munster will once again turn to the southern hemisphere to fill the gap left by 28-year-old De Villiers.
Payne conceded, however, that a suitable replacement would be difficult to come by, given the World Cup in New Zealand is just round the corner.
"We are considering all options in terms of our recruitment, especially considering it will be in the lead-up to a World Cup year and also given the type of player we will be looking to sign," he said.
"As was the case when we signed Jean, we will be looking to sign someone of true class, a high-profile player, someone who will be a positive influence on the younger players and give a massive impetus to the squad.
"In the lead-up to a World Cup year, we have to think that it might be difficult to find someone along those lines. We were always aware that there was a risk of losing Jean.
"There were indications that the SARU's (South African Rugby Union's) position may have changed slightly, but Jean and his representative have consulted with them and in the end, in order to guarantee himself the possibility of playing for the Springboks, he will have to play a season in South Africa.
"The autumn internationals gave us all a little bit of hope that there was maybe a shift in that position, but it seems that there hasn't been. If the SARU were to do so, they might be opening up a Pandora's Box. If we could just reschedule the World Cup, all would be great!"
Munster's rescheduled fixture against the Llanelli Scarlets, meanwhile, looks almost certain to be played on Thursday, March 18.
Ulster must wait and see whether Ireland hooker Rory Best will be available for Friday night's game against the Dragons at Ravenhill.
Best looks set to face England on Saturday week as Jerry Flannery is likely to be absent after being cited, so Ireland may not risk his availability.
"We're hopeful that Rory will be able to play but we're not sure of it yet," said Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin. "Tom Court is an injury doubt and we'll see how he comes through training."
Paddy Wallace, who came on as a replacement for Ireland against France, is in the squad, and although flanker Stephen Ferris is unavailable, McLaughlin remains optimistic.
"The Dragons are on the same league points as us, and they got one over on us in the first game of the season in Wales, so we owe them one," he said.
"We were outmuscled that day. They are coming here on the back of a good win over Saracens and will be full of confidence. This is a match they will definitely be targeting for a win so we need to be really focused and make sure we get a bit of revenge.
"It's a really big game for both teams, with qualification from the top four in the Magners League our priority now.
"We must keep the ball in hand and play some strong running rugby."