Wednesday 22 November 2017

O'Connell targets European return to action for Munster

Munster's Paddy Butler, left, and Sean Dougall provide support for team-mates Andrew Conway and Ivan Dineen during the squad training yesterday
Munster's Paddy Butler, left, and Sean Dougall provide support for team-mates Andrew Conway and Ivan Dineen during the squad training yesterday

John Fallon

Munster's hopes of making a solid start to their Heineken Cup campaign next month have received a significant boost with Paul O'Connell on target to be fit for the opening encounter away to Edinburgh.

O'Connell is continuing his rehab from a fractured bone in his right arm and Munster coach Rob Penney gave him a better than 50pc of playing against Leinster on Saturday week.

Traditionally, Munster, like Leinster, send their strongest team into that fixture with a similar 15 starting the following week for the opening game of the Heineken Cup.

"Paul is not far away," said Penney in Limerick yesterday. "He will get another training session in on Thursday. He will have a weights session and a little bit of light rugby stuff tomorrow (Wednesday) on the back of the national camp stuff he did over the weekend. He could easily be coming into the frame very quickly.

"I would think his chances of playing against Leinster are better than 50/50," said Penney.

And there could be a further boost for Munster with BJ Botha's recovery from a knee ligament injury picked up against London Irish in a pre-season game well on track and he is also likely to be available for the start of the Heineken Cup.

Winger Andrew Conway is battling to be ready for this weekend.

Neither Botha nor O'Connell will feature when Munster take on the Dragons in Musgrave Park on Saturday and Irish scrum-half Conor Murray has also been ruled out with a toe injury picked up with the national squad at Carton House.

He was wearing a supporting 'moon boot' at the Munster squad session in University of Limerick yesterday, but Penney said the injury was not as serious as it looked.

"Conor came out of national camp with a little aggravated toe injury, so they have put him in a moon boot when they sent him home. We are just working our way through the ramifications of that, but it doesn't look like he is going to be available this weekend.

"A moon boot just keeps everything locked up and so minimises the movement within the joints. Hopefully, it is not a long-term injury.

"BJ Botha is making good improvement. We expect him back playing some rugby next week.

"We will wait and see regarding the Heineken Cup. We have some good tightheads going well, so he may not make the group," said Penney.

ISSUES

One of the issues addressed by the Munster squad was the four yellow cards picked up against Treviso on Friday night when they lost a 10-point lead before going down 29-19 to bring their bright start to the league to a grinding halt.

"Certainly it was a frustration and something we have certainly talked about.

"There are certain things we can control and some things we can't. We have to get better at not putting ourselves in those positions," he said.

Referee Leighton Hodges sent Niall Ronan, Duncan Williams, Cathal Sheridan and Stephen Archer to the bin, but Penney revealed that the Welsh official might have been under a bit more pressure than normal.

"It was a day when there happened to be 20-odd assessors in the grandstand, so that causes a degree of pressure, I'm sure, for anyone who happens to be out in the middle. There was a massive language barrier issue. All of those things culminated in probably a degree of pressure which wouldn't normally be there.

"They were having a conference over there at the same time, so the poor referee was probably under a bit of extra heat.

"We made a couple of crucial errors. They got a bit of momentum and once the tide turned, a couple of yellow cards later and a 10-minute period where we basically gave away 20 points. That was the ball game. It was a bit shambolic there for a while," added Penney.

Irish Independent

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