Friday 17 November 2017

O'Cuinneagain lands shock Munster call-up

Kieran Rooney

FORMER Irish skipper Dion O'Cuinneagain is a shock choice as one of the two additional players nominated by Munster for the knock out stages of the Hei

FORMER Irish skipper Dion O'Cuinneagain is a shock choice as one of the two additional players nominated by Munster for the knock out stages of the Heineken European Cup.

But manager Jerry Holland has confirmed that O'Cuinneagain will only become available should Munster make the semi-finals, which are not scheduled until April. Furthermore, Munster will only look at using him in the event of injuries.

"This has nothing to do with Sunday's quarter-final against Biarritz," explained Holland. "It's a matter of getting cover, providing we get through the Biarritz game.

"Having lost three international back-row players from last season in Eddie Halvey, David Corkery and Ken O'Connell, we looked for someone with experience. We've spoken to Dion and he's agreeable."

The former Irish skipper, who played for Ulster in last season's Heineken Cup, has been back in South Africa since Christmas continuing his medical studies and recovering from injury. He suffered a broken wrist at the start of the season.

While he expects to be well over his injury difficulties before April, he cannot play in South Africa because he is still registered with Ballymena. Even so, his inclusion as one of the two extra Munster players, the other is Conor Mahony, makes a fair amount of sense.

Importantly, he has already knows and has played alongside quite a few of the Munster pack at international level.

Ideally, Munster would have preferred to have brought in one of their own players but the problem here is that the likes of David Quinlan and Paul Neville don't have experience at the very top level.

Meanwhile, the current Munster and Ireland No 8 Anthony Foley is getting just a bit tired of the emphasis on how easy things are likely to be for Munster against Biarritz. Those already looking forward to the semi-final draw are, Foley claims, missing the point.

They would do well to have a closer look at what Biarritz have to offer. If they did, they would, Foley insists, see that the French club could spoil the Thomond Park party.

"Biarritz can't be mugs if they have made the European Cup quarter-finals. Just look at the players they have, Olivier Roumat, Philippe Bernat-Salles, the Lievremont brothers, if fit, plus Frano Botica, one of the best goalkickers around.

"They have a strong physical pack, capable of controlling a game. And, let's not forget, they have come out of a very tough pool which also included the holders Northampton and Leinster, two sides that have beaten us over the past 12 months."

Foley could just as easily add that Biarritz managed to beat the fourth team in the pool Edinburgh Reivers twice. And, in getting the better of them at Myreside, they were inflicting a rare home defeat on Scottish district.

"We don't appreciate people saying Biarritz should wave the white flag before they come over. I know Leinster hammered them at Donnybrook 35-9, and we must find out how they did it.

"But I think I'm right in saying that the Biarritz side which beat Leinster last Saturday was very different from the one which started at Donnybrook."

How does Foley explain Leinster skipper Liam Toland's prediction that Munster will "hammer" Biarritz?

"Well, obviously he fancies our chances but I think there was also an element of frustration after what happened to Leinster on Saturday night and what happened the previous week against Edinburgh Reivers.

"That was desperately frustrating for the Leinster boys, and the fact that the referee seems to have given them a hard time, can only have added to the frustration.

"Okay, we are on a high but we are also only 80 minutes away from a big fall. We just need everyone to have the right heads on when we go on to the pitch. And that includes the crowd.

"We have to really go at them from the off. We can't really sit back and see what sort of side they are."

One senses that the the Shannon man would be pretty pleased if Munster can repeat their effort in beating Castres last Saturday. It was a performance which Foley was more than happy with.

"We were shaky enough in the first five minutes but then, I think, for 25 or 30 minutes we produced the best rugby we have played for a long time against a strong wind. That was the winning of the game.

"The second half may have seemed a bit boring but we went out and did the job, which was to get a home quarter-final."

Foley is, of course, absolutely right in taking nothing for granted but don't try telling the supporters who queued up in Limerick and Cork yesterday for tickets that Biarritz could spoil their day. The 4,000 or so tickets on sale at the two venues disappeared rapidly.

Some 6,000 tickets will be distributed to the clubs with the remainder of the 13,300 full house being made up of the allocation to Biarritz, the organising body the ERC, the Munster Supporters Club, plus schools and youths.

As the Munster PRO Pat Geraghty puts it: "If the ground held 25,000, we would still have people disappointed."

Munster start their preparation with a closed session in Cork today. They will train again in Limerick tomorrow with the line-up due to be announced in the early afternoon.

Everyone points to coach Declan Kidney having everyone available. John Kelly retired with an ankle problem against Castres but that was seen as precautionary.

Full-back Dominic Crotty was the only other slight concern with cramp. The only change from last Saturday's line-up could see Jason Holland resume in the centre at the expense of Killian Keane, after he proved his fitness when coming on as a substitute against Castres.

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