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Penney eyes new hooker after injury woes mount

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15 February 2014; Donncha O'Callaghan, Munster, warms up before coming on as a replacement for team-mate Dave O'Callaghan to make his record 241st appearance for Munster. Celtic League 2013/14, Round 14, Munster v Zebre, Musgrave Park, Cork. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

15 February 2014; Donncha O'Callaghan, Munster, warms up before coming on as a replacement for team-mate Dave O'Callaghan to make his record 241st appearance for Munster. Celtic League 2013/14, Round 14, Munster v Zebre, Musgrave Park, Cork. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

15 February 2014; Donncha O'Callaghan, Munster, warms up before coming on as a replacement for team-mate Dave O'Callaghan to make his record 241st appearance for Munster. Celtic League 2013/14, Round 14, Munster v Zebre, Musgrave Park, Cork. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Saturday night was Donncha's night. The fact that Munster picked up a second bonus-point win since they announced Rob Penney's departure seemed a sideshow as Musgrave Park paid tribute to one of their own.

Donncha O'Callaghan trotted on to a hero's welcome after just 18 minutes because of an injury to Dave O'Callaghan and, after Munster wrapped up a bonus-point win, the Cork crowd saluted the great lock on his 241st appearance in red.

In the midst of the celebrations, Penney was left to assess the latest in a line of injuries that may force him to add to his sizeable squad.

A haematoma to hooker Duncan Casey's thigh will see Munster fast-track their plans to sign a new No 2. "You'll know pretty shortly where we're going with that," Penney said, while Dave O'Callaghan's knee injury, "which didn't look good," could see him miss a large portion of the rest of the season.

And with his squad likely to be trimmed ever further by possible international call-ups for Simon Zebo – who crossed for two tries – Donnacha Ryan and Dave Kilcoyne, Penney still identified the mood of the night and acknowledged his influential second-row.

"Yeah, massive night for him and he played a robust, passionate game as always," he said. "It was just fantastic. I was just talking with his family on the touchline, all there to celebrate with the big guy and they all got a photo with him. It's just such a special time for him and the O'Callaghan family.

"It's a great tribute to him and he's going to make it very difficult for the person who's going to succeed him. It's not going to stop anywhere near that (241) – it's going to be well past that, so, yeah, it's going to take something a bit special to get near him."

THRILLED

Apart from a stuttering third quarter, Munster will be thrilled with their performance on Saturday.

Zebo's two tries gave them a 15-5 lead at the break after Tommaso D'Apice's early try threatened to spoil the party, while Tommy O'Donnell's try, and two more from replacement hooker Ger Slattery, gave a suitable sheen to the scoreboard.

While fly-half JJ Hanrahan looked a little off colour when kicking for touch, his partnership with Ian Keatley in the centre was a real eye-catcher as Munster fans got another glimpse at the future.

And, after making his return from a knee injury, Ryan put in a solid 68 minutes – albeit with a missed tackle for Zebre's try – that should see him called up to the Ireland squad.

But this was Donncha's night, and the man himself admitted to feeling a little blown away by the reception rolled out by the home fans – and by his own feeling of satisfaction at surpassing Ronan O'Gara's record.

"Honestly, I can't believe how kind people have been this week, the goodwill towards it," said an emotional O'Callaghan.

"I thought I had annoyed enough people over the years, but, like I said earlier, I'm playing for a team I love, in front of my family and you look at the crowd and it's the same faces that you'd have seen for 15 or 16 years.

"You just kinda feel a tight bond around the place and that's special for me. I'm blessed to be able to play for a team that I care so much about and other people do too.

"When I made my debut I came on with my brother, so Munster means everything to me and to my family. I think Munster's in my DNA.

"I've taken on the values and I think I've brought it into my life a bit more. I am hugely thankful, I honestly am. I get to tog out with a group of lads that I love and a team that means everything to me."

Munster – F Jones (A Conway 65); G van den Heever, J Murphy, I Keatley, S Zebo; JJ Hanrahan (D Hurley 60), C Sheridan (D Williams 60); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 68), D Casey (G Slattery 50), BJ Botha (J Ryan 63); D Ryan (S Dougall 68), B Holland; Dave O'Callaghan (Donncha O'Callaghan 18), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander.

Zebre – D Berryman; D Odiete (G Bisegni 72), K Ratuvou, R Quartaroli, G Venditti; G Palazzani, B Leonard; A De Marchi (D Ryan 50), R D'Apice (L Giovanchelli 58), D Chistolini (L Leibson 53); M Van Vuren (F Cazzola 75), G Biagi (E Caffini 56); F Cristiano (N Cattina 55), A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa.

Ref – D Phillips (IRFU).

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