Pucciarello set to make Euro start for Munster

FEDERICO PUCCIARELLO, born in Rosario, Argentina, and who has made eight appearances for Italy, is set to make his first start in a Heineken Cup match for Munster in Sunday’s semi-final against Leinster at Lansdowne Road.

Coach Declan Kidney yesterday conceded that “Marcus Horan is struggling but we’re going to give him every chance. We’ll make the decision when we have to, we don’t have to do that for another 48 hours. Marcus and physiotherapist Kirsty Peacock have been working really hard on the calf so, in fairness, we’ll give him every chance. But he is struggling.”

Horan would be a huge loss to Munster. He is a high-class loose head prop in every sense of the word having few superiors around the pitch. He is also a formidable scrummager.

The disappointment for Horan is all the greater given that he picked up the minor calf tear during a training session shortly after the quarter-final win over Perpignan.

Pucciarello, aged 31, has become a hugely popular member of the Munster squad since his arrival from Italy last summer and demonstrated in last week’s Celtic League tie against Edinburgh that he is in great fettle. He scored the first of Munster’s six tries and made a thrilling second half dash that brought the crowd to its feet. The management is quietly confident that he will hold his own against Leinster’s former England and London Wasps prop Will Green. Pucciarello stands 5ft 9in, but weighs in at 17st 4lb. He came in as a substitute for Italy in their Six Nations 32-17 defeat by Ireland at Lansdowne Road in 2002 and so will be no stranger to a big match occasion at Sunday’s venue.

Otherwise, the news of Munster’s walking wounded could hardly be better. Ronan O’Gara has shrugged off his recent hamstring and knee injuries and trained yesterday. Denis Leamy, who has been troubled by a sprained ankle, and Jeremy Manning, who shipped a heavy knock to the head a fortnight ago against the Welsh Dragons, also took a full part in yesterday’s session at Thomond Park.

Kidney reported that Tomás O’Leary was also involved in most of the action and will be considered for a place in the three-quarter line. The panel of 30 announced yesterday seems excessively large, but this has been done to cover several eventualities. For instance, should Pucciarello move up from the bench, his place will go to either Eugene McGovern or Frank Roche while the inclusion of Christian Cullen, who has recovered from his most recent setback, means that he could also play a role as substitute or even make a surprise appearance on the wing.

Kidney said “it was a case of permutations as to who turns up fit to go and I’d like to think we haven’t included anybody who doesn’t have a realistic chance of being in the 22. It depends on how guys go over the next 48 to come up with the best combination. Cully took an active part today.”

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