Munster at full strength for Castres

MUNSTER'S walking wounded received favourable reports from their medics yesterday and the expectation is that all will be able to take part in today's squad session at Temple Hill in the build-up to Friday's all-important Heineken European Cup away game against Castres (7.30pm Sky Sports 2).

Coach Declan Kidney had expressed the hope that victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Saturday would have a positive effect and hopefully help the players "to shake off their knocks and bruises earlier than might otherwise have been the case had the result gone against them".

For once luck appears to have been on his side after John Hayes (ankle), Marcus Horan (facial infection), Jerry Flannery (sciatica), Mick O'Driscoll (back) and John Kelly (hand) were given the all-clear yesterday.

Kidney will announce an extended squad after today's session and there will be another session at Thomond Park, after which the coach will have a clearer picture of his options open to him.

He must reveal his starting line-up on Thursday when he has the tricky but welcome dilemma in deciding between Donncha O'Callaghan and Mick O'Driscoll as Paul O'Connell's second-row partner.

However, each of the trio will have plentiful game time in the Stade Pierre Antoine, while the odds favour a centre place for Barry Murphy ahead of Gary Connolly. Denis Leamy and Anthony Horgan will be back at number six and the left wing respectively, though both Stephen Keogh and Ian Dowling both did themselves proud in Edinburgh.

Reflecting on the win in Scotland, Kidney attributed the failure to put the opposition to the sword in the first half to over-anxiety due to the recent defeats by Ulster and Leinster.

Acting captain Paul O'Connell is

demanding more patience in the build-up, pointing out that it's not necessary to score tries in the fourth or fifth phase and that if they retain possession then those will come in the eighth or ninth.

However, it's in holding on to the ball in contact that the team has let itself down, and that's why the tries aren't coming as often as the preparatory work demands.

"We've managed to win away in the league and now we have to get ready for a totally different kind of competition," says Kidney.

"The way the fixtures are falling, I think Castres will have a full team on Friday. They played a league game on December 22, didn't play again until Saturday night, when they had a big win over Montpellier, and their next league game isn't for three weeks.

"They won't bring their first team to Dragons for the last round of the European pool and my guess is we'll meet a full-strength side with no pressure on them."

Castres are out of the running for a quarter-final place but, like all French sides, will want to impress at home.

Furthermore, they have no love for their old adversaries from Munster.

Kidney and co are aware of the challenge awaiting them in a game they simply must win to reach the knock-out stages for the eighth successive year.

However, the coach is not lacking in confidence heading into the two most important weeks of the season so far.

Instead, he reels off the names of young players who will have benefited hugely from the experience of winning at Murrayfield.

"You had Eugene McGovern, Ian Dowling, Denis Fogarty, Tomas O'Leary and Barry Murphy, all fellows who this time last year weren't heard of, involved in a really competitive fixture," he said.

"Alan [Gaffney] was doing his work with them and bringing them through and it's also the benefit of having an A game on a back pitch at Murrayfield back in October. We won 7-6, Ian Dowling got the try, and all of these guys were playing that day.

"On our return to Murrayfield on Saturday, I know there were a whole host of things that weren't the way we would like them to be.

"Denis [Fogarty] will take the flak for the line-out problems but I would have to discuss this with some of my senior players. The way the season has gone, Frankie [Sheahan] would have been the master and Jerry [Flannery] got his time. So how much time has Denis had with the jumpers? Paul [O'Connell] is only back for three matches and Edinburgh was the first time he jumped at four this year.

"So of all the practice Denis has had, he would have had minimum practice throwing to Paul at four.

"That's the first time Paul and Donncha have gone in the second row, so that didn't make it easy for Denis.

"Mick O'Driscoll did okay at number eight and Wally [David Wallace] was right back into it, that was a huge difference for us, he was excellent. I'd like to see more chances being finished off but I'd be more frustrated if we weren't creating.

"I'd say we're converting 20% of what we're creating and that's not an awful lot. What you have to do is make sure you don't increase the anxiety, you must back them and say let's stick with it now.

"In golf, you have a fella who rims out three or four times in a round. He doesn't change anything. We should be the same. We have to work so hard for our tries and put the ball through so many hands. All of a sudden, a few bricks will fall into place."

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