O’Connell and O’Gara gunning for Tigers

MUNSTER hope to head to Welford Road for their first defence of the Heineken Cup with a clean bill of health.

Yet, coach Declan Kidney is taking no chances and has named a squad of 25, including newcomers Diogo Mateus, the Portuguese international, and the most recent signing from New Zealand, Lifeimi Mafi.

Kidney also announced his squad of 38 for the tournament, and the only mild surprise is the exclusion of youngster Tom Gleeson, who was given a couple of runs earlier in the season.

But, most importantly for this weekend’s clash with Leicester, injured duo Paul O’Connell (hip) and Ronan O’Gara (shoulder) are included and Kidney is in no doubt both will be fit to play against the side that denied Munster a first Heineken Cup in 2002.

Even though Munster exacted some revenge in the following year’s quarter final, Leicester got the better of the Irish province in a friendly at the start of the season.

But Kidney knows that result counts for nothing now.

“There are no excuses for being beaten; they were the best players available to us at the time. We found a number of players from that game and that should stand us to good stead in the future.

“Half of our role as a province is to try and bring players through; a number of young guys got a go there that night and in other games. It’s of no relevance to this game, other than the fact that we might have given a couple of young guys the confidence to go out and take on the likes of Leicester.”

Neither is Kidney worried about the fact that every other team in the competition wants to knock his side from their pedestal.

He insisted: “I would prefer to be coming into the tournament off the back of a win rather than having been beaten in the final.

“It might have been worse if we lost the final last year; once we won it, the next season was always going to come around. Here it is, and we’ve got to face up to the challenge as always. It’s better to come around to it on the back of a win because you can feed off some of the confidence that a win generates.

“There’s nothing I’ve seen in training to suggest that the boys are not working as hard, or harder, than ever.

“If anything, things have changed to the point where you want to get the guys to hold back from doing too much in training. It makes my job a lot easier,” he said.

Munster’s results have been a source of worry, if not to Kidney, then certainly, to the supporters.

The coach refuses to panic. “We’ve had to go through different blocks of the season. We had a lot of younger guys playing at the start of the season; we got a lot of positives out of that, but unfortunately we finished that part of the season with a disappointing result against Glasgow.

“Then we went into another part, where we were together as a fully professional squad, as against having academy and development guys who, by the way, I couldn’t speak more highly of. We had a game against Ulster, a six day turnaround against Leinster and then had to dig deep against Edinburgh.

“We didn’t do too well in those last two matches, but we turned over possession actually trying things, and I would be far more worried if we had lost those games being static and not trying things.

“There is no doubt in my mind that all we need is to get a bit of cohesion, and that will come with these guys. It’s not easy when a team comes together such a short time before games; there is no doubt that the last few weeks, and the kick they need from the last couple of results, will help,” he said.

“We have lost some big games, but my view is that you often learn more from a defeat than you do from a win. The last couple of weeks, well, I would hope to bring some lessons from those matches into this week.”

MUNSTER (squad v Leicester): S. Payne, D. Meteus, L. Mafi, T. Halstead, B. Murphy, J. Kelly, I. Dowling, E. Hickey, J. Manning, R. O’Gara, T. O’Leary, P. Stringer; J. Hayes, M. Horan, F. Pucciariello, F. Sheahan, A. Kyriacou, P. O’Connell, M. O’Driscoll, D. O’Callaghan, C. Wyatt, A. Quinlan, D. Wallace, D. Leamy, A. Foley.

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