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O'Connell back as Earls bids to prove fitness for Munster's play-off push

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Paul O'Connell. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul O'Connell. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul O'Connell. Photo: Sportsfile

MUNSTER are ready to welcome captain Paul O'Connell back into their match-day squad for tomorrow's Pro12 clash against the Scarlets in Llanelli, but Keith Earls remains a doubtful starter.

The province say they will give the centre until this morning to prove his fitness after yesterday's training session as they seek to maintain their push for a home semi-final next month.

O'Connell and Earls both missed last weekend's 35-29 victory over Glasgow Warriors in Musgrave Park, with Mick O'Driscoll and Johne Murphy slotting in at No 5 and No 13 respectively. With leaders Leinster already guaranteed a home berth, Munster lie two points behind second-placed Ospreys, who are taking on the Dragons in Shane Williams' farewell match at the Liberty Stadium tonight.

Ulster, who play Leinster in Ravenhill tonight, are still in the hunt and travel to Thomond in the final round of regular fixtures on May 5, leaving Munster desperate to secure victory over the Scarlets as they seek to maximise their chances of retaining their title.

Sixth-placed Scarlets are only two points off a play-off spot but have been hurt by injury to star centre Jonathan Davies, who is a major doubt for Wales' summer tour to Australia as he may require surgery on a hernia problem.

Meanwhile, shortlisted Munster coach candidate Rob Penney has been linked with the Western Force following the news that Richard Graham will take charge of the Queensland Reds next year.

With Tony McGahan returning to Australia at the end of the season, Canterbury coach Penney has been interviewed for the Munster head coach role along with former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga, although forwards coach Anthony Foley remains the strong favourite.

Stade Francais coach Michael Cheika is reported to be odds-on to take over the Force but Penney, former England backs coach Brian Smith and Force assistant coach Phil Blake are also in the running.

McGahan has also been linked with the Force role although he is due to take up an influential position as assistant to Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans.

Munster said yesterday that an announcement on McGahan's replacement is not imminent, with their chosen name not due to be submitted to the IRFU until the end of the month.

Irish Independent