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Paul O'Connell setback as Keith Earls faces dilemma

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Paul O'Connell

Paul O'Connell

Paul O'Connell

Munster coach Rob Penney will welcome back some of his international contingent for Friday's visit to Ulster, but former captain Paul O'Connell is unlikely to make the cut as he continues to recover from injury.

The second-row had been pencilled in to return for this week's Pro12 action, but his rehabilitation from the knee injury he sustained in April's Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to the northerners has hit the buffers.

The returns of Donnacha Ryan and Peter O'Mahony may also be delayed, but it is likely that Ronan O'Gara, Conor Murray and Keith Earls will see some action -- albeit from the bench as new coach Penney seeks to build on the encouraging unbeaten start to the league campaign.

The promising centre partnership between James Downey and Casey Laulala confronts Earls in particular with a dilemma as the Irish international has stated his disdain at playing anywhere other than in midfield.

Ulster scrum-half Paul Marshall has declared that his side must improve as the two only unbeaten Irish sides prepare to tussle.

"We didn't threaten enough in attack but I thought we scrambled well in attack (against the Ospreys)," says Marshall, an unused member of the Ireland squad that toured New Zealand in June before undergoing surgery on an elbow problem.

"Injury-wise I feel good. My elbow isn't giving me much trouble at all. It was good for me to get back on the pitch. I got 20 minutes the first week and another 40 on Saturday so it's good to catch up a bit. This week will be a really tough encounter, as all the inter-pros are.

"We will have to be firing on all cylinders if we are to come away with another win; a performance like the one on Saturday night won't be good enough.

"It's our first inter-pro of the season so it's exciting for the fans and players.

"I'm expecting Conor Murray to play on Friday and he's currently the No 1 scrum-half in Ireland so it will be a big test if I'm selected. But the main thing for me is getting more game time with Ulster.

"Blane McIlroy and Michael Heaney have been playing well so my focus is to fight for a place in the Ulster team."

Irish Independent