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Penney in dark over O'Connell return


Munster coach Rob Penney and Paul O'Connell

Munster coach Rob Penney and Paul O'Connell

Munster coach Rob Penney and Paul O'Connell

SIMON ZEBO is set to play his first match of the season for Munster when they take on Newport Gwent Dragons at Thomond Park on Saturday.

The winger is the latest Irish international to return to his province, although new Munster coach Rob Penney will have to wait at least another week before Peter O'Mahony and Donnacha Ryan are available.

And he will also have to plan without Paul O'Connell for another game, with the Heineken Cup opener against Racing Metro just over three weeks away.

"It's probably a week-to-week thing. We've had a lot of discussions. When Paul feels like he's ready he'll be back on the grass," said Penney. "He's in a programme but there's no set guidelines on when he'll be back to play. If it takes a month it takes a month, two months then two months. It'll be what it'll be."

Penney said that it was important to ensure that the second-row, who has been out of action with a knee injury which forced him to miss Ireland's tour to New Zealand, was 100pc fit before returning.

"He's making progress, which is great, but there's absolutely no deadline date for him to return," Penney said.

"For me, to see the guy playing at the highest level at 100pc would be a wonderful thing, and being consistent in his ability to play at every level at 100pc, so the pragmatic view comes on the back of those things.

"It's very simple really -- if you care for your players then those sorts of decisions about their welfare are no-brainers."

James Coughlan and Luke O'Dea are definitely out of Saturday's clash, with Dolphin No 8 Coughlan a particular concern. The Cork man will meet with a specialist today to determine the extent of the groin injury he suffered in last Friday's defeat to Ulster at Ravenhill.

Penney, who saw his winning start come to a halt on Friday when Munster were pipped 20-19 by Ulster, may be forced to change his backline, with Denis Hurley a doubt through illness.

That might pave the way for Ian Keatley to move from out-half to No 15, with Ronan O'Gara, who came on for his first action of the new season on Friday, starting at No 10.

"Denis has come with a very bad throat today so it's highly unlikely he'll be around," Penney said.

"We've skilful guys who can play a multitude of positions and sometimes you experiment a little just to see which is the right one for them, given the style you want to play. Ian has been tremendous for us and I'm sure there's other people in the country who'll be keen to see Ian in other positions to judge his versatility.

"He's a goal-kicker as well as a versatile player. This could be a real string in his bow heading into higher honours potentially. He's the option if Denis doesn't come right."

Meanwhile, Penney said that the tragic death of Ulster centre Nevin Spence, along with his father and brother, had shocked the Munster squad and management.


"I think there's two things there. One, they're around their mates and people need to be around people at times like this," he said.

"The guys are wonderfully respectful of everyone at this sad time so we, as a management group, haven't had to do anything overtly except to have some discussions with some people who were more intimate with him than maybe others were.

"The rest of the group is just respectful of the individuals who were closer to him, and often one of the best ways to alleviate the pain is to get back into your work, and that's what the lads have done."

Irish Independent