Robin Copeland worry as Reds turn focus to Sarries showdown
Munster may have a couple of key Pro12 games to play before they resume their Champions Cup campaign, but the countdown to their crucial clash with Saracens has begun in earnest with them switching training to a 4G pitch.
Munster will take on Saracens on their artificial pitch at Allianz Park on Saturday fortnight, and Anthony Foley and his men have switched training at University of Limerick to the 4G pitch on campus to get more accustomed to that surface.
Scrum coach Jerry Flannery confirmed yesterday that the switch from their usual pitch in UL had nothing to do with the frosty weather and was to help get them used to what they will encounter in north London in a couple of weeks.
"There's no coincidence. It's planned that we'd do some sessions on the 4G in the build-up towards to the Sarries away game," confirmed Flannery.
But there are fears that Irish international Robin Copeland could miss that showdown and yesterday Munster were waiting for the results of a scan on a shoulder injury picked up in the win against Leinster.
The 27-year old, who made his Ireland debut off the bench against Georgia in November, has been ruled out of Thursday's clash with Connacht.
The Wexford-born back-rower joined Munster on a two-year deal from Cardiff during the summer and has featured in 11 of the Reds' 15 games this season.
Full-back Felix Jones also sat out training yesterday with a shoulder injury, as did centre Denis Hurley, who is troubled by a hamstring problem, and both are rated doubtful for the trip to Galway.
But flanker Tommy O'Donnell is available after receiving stitches to a mouth wound and is likely to be joined by several of his team-mates who had to sit out the win over Leinster, with skipper Peter O'Mahony - fully recovered from a knock suffered against Glasgow - Paul O'Connell, Simon Zebo and perhaps Conor Murray set to return.
Keith Earls could make his first appearance of the season away to Zebre on Saturday week after a troublesome knee injury, while Donnacha Ryan is also recovering.
Munster have enjoyed three wins from three against Irish provinces this season but one player who knows just how fired up Connacht will be on Thursday is former Sportsground favourite Ian Keatley.
The Dublin native made the breakthrough with Connacht and spent three seasons at the Sportsground before moving to Munster in 2011.
Keatley was man of the match when Connacht scored their only win over Munster in the professional era, kicking all the points in a 12-6 success six years ago when the Reds were the reigning Heineken Cup champions.
"That was my first inter-pro for Connacht so it was good," he recalled.
"When I was there Connacht were talking about building their own legacy and they have really stepped it up this year. They are undefeated at home, which shows how strong they are, and they will have their 16th man behind them on New Year's Day which will create a great atmosphere.
"I'm going back to where it kind of all started for me. I'm looking forward to it. We got a good win over Leinster and we are hoping to build on that."
Keatley (27) has had big boots to fill in Munster following Ronan O'Gara's retirements, but landing the pressure kick at Stade Marcel Michelin which secured a losing bonus point against Clermont Auvergne, which could yet be invaluable in the Champions Cup, showed the progress he has made.
"When they scored their third try we said under the posts we knew the game was over for us to win it, but we huddled up and said we are playing for a bonus point here," he said.
"It started with Duncan (Casey) getting that intercept when we were putting pressure high up the field on them, then got the conversion and we were within ten. We put pressure on them and they gave away a penalty and thankfully I stepped up and put it over.
"It's weird, the kind of mentality you are in. You know what's going on but you can't dwell on it too much. You are just in a zone, you don't have time to think and thankfully it went over and we are still in contention.
"But first and foremost we have Connacht this week and we are building towards Saracens, but you can't just turn it on one day, you need to be building and Connacht is another step for us on that road."