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Return of the king


Paul O'Connell. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul O'Connell. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul O'Connell. Photo: Sportsfile

PAUL O'CONNELL starts his first Munster match in 359 days when he runs out in the Stade Felix Mayol tomorrow (3.0) looking to help the province keep their Heineken Cup hopes alive.

Munster need to beat Pool 3 leaders Toulon to avoid the prospect of going out at the pool stages for the first time since 1998 and, despite the second row's shortage of game-time following his injury and suspension issues, coach Tony McGahan has turned to the inspirational O'Connell (above) in his hour of need.

"It's great to have him," said Johne Murphy, who starts on the left wing tomorrow. "It's the little snippets he throws in that are vitally important to us. He has an air of leadership, responsibility and everything around him."

Peter Stringer starts at scrum-half ahead of Tomas O'Leary, while Sam Tuitupou returns to midfield next to Keith Earls against a powerful Toulon side featuring Jonny Wilkinson at out-half and Felipe Contepomi at centre.

Meanwhile, Luke Fitzgerald is on the bench for Leinster's Pool 2 clash with Saracens at the RDS today (1.30) as Joe Schmidt reverts to the back three of Isa Nacewa, Fergus McFadden and Shane Horgan that performed so well in the back-to-back games against Clermont in December.

As expected, Jamie Heaslip is unable to start at No 8 due to an ankle injury so Sean O'Brien slots into the middle of the back-row with Dominic Ryan at blind-side flanker.

Ulster take on Biarritz at a sold-out Ravenhill this afternoon (3.30) knowing that victory can propel them to their first quarter-final since 1999 as they face Italian side Aironi in their final pool game next weekend.

Rory Best captains a powerful Ulster outfit that will look to their back-row of Stephen Ferris, Pedrie Wannenburg and Willie Faloon to lay the platform for victory.

Irish Independent