Cullen can’t face Dragons as injury jinx strikes again

CHRISTIAN CULLEN’S injury jinx has struck again and he is out of Munster’s squad for tonight’s Celtic League clash with Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade (7.10pm).

The former All Black is nursing a hamstring strain, just weeks after making his comeback from a shoulder injury.

Marcus Horan has also been ruled out with a calf strain and there is concern over his fitness in the build-up to the Heineken Cup semi-final with Leinster in two weeks.

Horan has been replaced at loose head prop by Federico Pucciariello, but Munster have called on the remaining seven forwards who finished the game against Perpignan last week.

Denis Leamy, who started the game, is again replaced by Mick O’Driscoll, but both Leamy and Ronan O’Gara are expected to be fit to challenge for places against Leinster. O’Gara sustained a cut to his knee last week and to ensure he doesn’t suffer a recurrence of his hamstring strain, he will be replaced by Jeremy Manning.

The Dragons have made changes from a recent defeat by Ulster. Gareth Wyatt, Ian Gough, Michael Owen and Luke Charteris are all named in the squad, Charteris making his first start of the season.

This is a must-win game for third-placed Munster, who have slipped from the top following recent defeats by Glasgow and Ulster. They are six points adrift of leaders Ulster and three down on Leinster.

But Munster, back to something like full strength compared with recent games, have not lost three in-a-row in the competition since April 2004. The omens are also good in that they have won their last eight games against Welsh opponents in all competitions.

The Dragons lost 17-24 at table topping Ulster last time out, but have won their last four matches at Rodney Parade since the Scarlets beat them there on 23 December.

The two sides have already met three times this season with the Irishmen winning all three.

Leinster have made four changes to the team that triumphed in Toulouse for today’s Celtic League clash with the Border Reivers at Netherdale. Rob Kearney replaces winger Shane Horgan with Kieran Lewis slotting in at first centre for Gordon D’Arcy.

In the pack, Ronan McCormack takes Reggie Corrigan’s jersey in the front row, while Niall Ronan gets his reward for some sterling performances with the ‘A’ team, taking over from Cameron Jowitt at six.

Despite the changes, Leinster coach Michael Cheika insists that it is not a policy of resting players. The word Leinster prefer to use is personnel “management”.

“I don’t really believe in resting players,” Cheika said. “Players want to play and they want to keep challenging to the very end. We’re going to try to put our best available players out there. They don’t just train for the sake of training.”

Meanwhile, after 300 appearances in England, including 40 Heineken Cup matches, Leinster’s Will Green is enjoying his new Leinster surroundings.

“It was time to move on, time for a new challenge. Part of me will alwaysremain with Wasps, but I’m now in a new environment and thoroughly enjoying my stay in Dublin. I’m glad I made the move,” he said.

“I’m a Leinster player now; of course there are fond memories of Wasps, there were some very good personal experiences, but I’ve moved on. It’s now about being part of this very exciting set-up, part of being associated with a great work ethic that we’ve generated.”

His philosophy is not to look back, either on his time with the English club or even with Leinster on their marvelous day in Toulouse last week.

“It’s something we will remember in times to come, but the one thing you learn about this game is that you can very easily get cut down if your head gets too big. We had a recovery day on Sunday but we were back into work on Monday, and we’re planning now for this weekend,” he said.

“It would be silly of us to go to Scotland this week and think that it will be any easier than it was in Toulouse. We have to strive to get consistency into our game, and that means we have to perform week after week, not just one week out of every few. The good work can be undone in just one game, so it’s now up to us to use last week’s performance to ensure we can build on it. This week will be a huge test of how far we have come.”

MUNSTER: S. Payne, J. Kelly, T. O’Leary, T. Halstead, I. Dowling, J. Manning, P. Stringer; F. Pucciariello, J. Flannery, J. Hayes, D. O’Callaghan, P. O’Connell, M. O’Driscoll, A. Foley (capt), D. Wallace.

GWENT DRAGONS: A. Thomas, G. Wyatt, H. Luscombe, C. Sweeney, N. Brew, C. Warlow, G. Baber, A. Black, S. Jones, R. Thomas, I. Gough, L. Charteris, J. Ringer, M. Owen, J. Forster (captain).

LEINSTER (v Border Reivers): G Dempsey, R Kearney, B O’Driscoll, K Lewis, D Hickie, F Contepomi, G Easterby; R McCormack, B Blaney, W Green, B Williams, M O’Kelly, N Ronan, K Gleeson, J Heaslip.

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