O’Connell on course to win fitness battle for Cup final

PAUL O’CONNELL looks set to be fit for Munster’s Heineken Cup Final against Biarritz on May 20.

O’Connell sustained an ankle injury in the side’s defeat to the Neath Swansea Ospreys on Friday night. However the Irish international is responding well to treatment as is international colleague Marcus Horan (calf injury) ahead of the trip to Cardiff.

However injury concerns combined with the necessity to rest some players mean Munster are below full strength for this evening’s Celtic League clash with Llanelli Scarlets at Stradey Park.

The game was postponed last month because of a waterlogged pitch but conditions are likely to be a lot more favourable for Munster’s last game before they tackle Biarritz in the Heineken Cup final on Saturday week.

The only players in action tonight who are likely to line out against Biarritz are Anthony Horgan, Ian Dowling, Peter Stringer, Freddie Puciarello and Denis Leamy.

Interestingly, Tomas O’Leary starts at outside centre, where he played in the quarter-final win over Perpignan. Should John Kelly fail to recover from his shoulder injury, then the Cork native could appear in the number thirteen jersey once again on Saturday week. Skipper Anthony Foley, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, David Wallace, Ronan O’Gara and Shaun Payne take a well-earned breather but all of this means that Kidney has had to dig deep to find suitable replacements.

Leinster-bound Stephen Keogh and Trevor Hogan are included in the pack while full-back Denis Hurley of UCC and Garryowen hooker Pat Humphreys have been drafted into the starting line-up. Another uncontracted player, UCC prop Timmy Ryan, sits on the bench. Alan Quinlan, who had 20 minutes in the game against the Ospreys, is also set for some game time as he continues his rehabilitation from a serious shoulder injury.

Given the weakened nature of their team and the recent slippage of points, Munster’s prospects of regaining the Celtic League title are slim.

The Scarlets, under the captaincy of Ireland flanker Simon Easterby, have won each of their last six matches at famed Stradey. They did lose a cracker of a Heineken Cup match there against Toulouse by 49-42 and are intent on another good result tonight as they bid to confirm their presence in next season’s Heineken Cup.

Nigel Davies says Llanelli Scarlets must improve from Saturday’s narrow Celtic League win over Borders for the game.

“You’re not going to be competitive in this league if you can’t hold on to the ball,” said Scarlets coach Davies.

“Including our penalties, I think we turned the ball over 40 times against Borders — that’s just ridiculous.

“Our precision has got to improve ten-fold for the game against Munster on Tuesday night at Stradey Park.”

Scarlets still managed to claim five points from the scrappy win over Borders, but needed wing Mark Jones’ last-gasp interception try to see off the Scots.

The game will be broadcast live by Setanta Sports from 7.05pm.

MUNSTER: D. Hurley; A. Horgan, T. O’Leary, M. Lawler, I. Dowling; J. Manning, P. Stringer; E. McGovern, P. Humphreys, F. Pucciarello, T. Hogan, M. O’Driscoll, D. Leamy, S. Keogh, J. O’Sullivan.

Replacements: T. Ryan, D. Varley, D. O’Callaghan, A. Quinlan; M. Prendergast, P. Burke, M. Mullins.

Referee: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland).

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