Sport Rugby

Sunday 17 December 2017

Penney expects Munster squad to step up in absence of international players

Munster head coach Rob Penney
Munster head coach Rob Penney
Conor George

Conor George

Munster will be able to call on a bare minimum of their international players for this weekend's opening Pro12 fixture against Edinburgh at Musgrave Park.

It is probable that Donncha O'Callaghan will be the only seasoned international available to Rob Penney and he confirmed yesterday that none of the backs who travelled with either Ireland or the Lions will feature on Saturday.

It is probable it will be game three or four before the likes of team captain Peter O'Mahony and the Lions break-out performer Conor Murray will see competitive action.

Any restrictions on Stephen Archer after he toured North America with Ireland are likely to be relaxed after it was confirmed BJ Botha will miss a "minimum of four weeks" after suffering a grade two tear of his medial knee ligament.

"The situation with BJ is that it will at least be the Dragons game, if not the Leinster game, before we see him back," said Penney.

"It could be longer than that but BJ is usually a very quick healer so hopefully that will be the case this time. We would want our full deck available for the Leinster game in anticipation of the start of the Heineken Cup."

Andrew Conway and James Downey will miss out again this weekend as they continue to recover from a dead leg and torn quad muscle respectively. It is anticipated Conway will be available for Munster's next two games and their week-long stay in Italy.

Penney and the squad will spend the week in between their matches against Zebre and Treviso in a training camp in Italy and Conway should be available for at least one of those games.

The Munster coach took the opportunity yesterday to be generous in his praise for the strength and depth of his squad in light of the retirements of two "irreplaceable players" in Doug Howlett and Ronan O'Gara.

He's happy that despite minimum recruitment – Gerhard van den Heever and Conway are the only additions from outside – Munster have a squad capable of challenging for honours in both the Heineken Cup and the Pro12.

"A lot of guys had opportunities last season and proved that they can step into the large holes left by some talented and experienced players who left over the last 18 months or so," said Penney.

"You always need guys to step into the breach and they have proven themselves to be very capable of doing that. Tommy O'Donnell is one who stepped up and we have the likes of James Cronin and John Ryan ready to try and step in for Marcus Horan. I am happy with the depth of the squad we have."

Penney is so enthused by the form and attitude of his players during the pre-season that he believes his selection calls will be "a nightmare" over the next few weeks, even allowing for the absence of the internationals.

"Usually you have 60pc of guys firing with the other 40pc under the radar a little. That's not the case now. Everyone is flying and it is going to be really challenging to select a team," Penney said.

"We are in a good spot in that way. We're moving in a good direction and hopefully we can continue with that."

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