Carney to debut as injury-ravaged Munster face Ulster

FORMER Rugby League star Brian Carney looks set to make his Munster debut against Ulster at Ravenhill tomorrow night, but it will be on side shorn of virtually all its international stars.

But, as always, coach Declan Kidney remained positive, suggesting it was an opportunity for many of his younger players to make their mark.

The Munster pack includes just one player – Jerry Flannery – involved in Ireland’s Six Nations victory over Italy last week, while Frankie Sheahan has also been named on the squad that will be captained by Alan Quinlan.

After Kidney made the decision to rest the likes of Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara and the other front-liners, he has also been hit with injuries just over a week before the Heineken Cup clash with Llanelli Scarlets at Stradey Park.

It doesn’t auger well their prospects. He confirmed that Paul O’Connell and Shaun Payne cannot be considered for next week, while John Kelly is extremely doubtful. Anthony Horgan, Anthony Foley and Mick O’Driscoll are “struggling”, while an injury yesterday to Barry Murphy and Chris Wyatt has sent further shivers down his spine. Murphy will probably miss Belfast with a hamstring injury. “It only gets better, doesn’t it?” he quipped sarcastically.

He explained the reasoning behind the planned changes, saying: “If you look at the forwards, guys like John Hayes, Dave Wallace, Donncha O’Callaghan all played through five matches in the Six Nations; Denis Leamy did all but ten of the total number of minutes.

“It was very important we had guys fresh and enthusiastic going into Friday night; it’s a huge ask for the players, it’s always a huge ask for any team going to Ravenhill, but it’s not as if we’re putting players on the pitch that we don’t know. We’ve seen them train all season and we know what they’re capable of.”

On the inclusion of Carney, Kidney remarked that the player had become more comfortable with each training session since his arrival in Ireland a week ago.

“It’s a big challenge for him, but he is a quality player with huge experience at the highest level in Rugby League. He will be the first to admit that there are things he has to learn about the game, but he’s more than willing to have a go.

“If the opportunity arises on Friday night, we will give him the chance. Everything he does well, we will give him credit for, everything he doesn’t do well then we will endeavour to help him improve,” he said.

Quinlan is in no doubt about the enormity of the task. “They’re a very settled side who have been able to have a run of games with the same team.

It doesn’t make it any easier that they’re very passionate about their rugby up there and Ravenhill can be a pretty unforgiving place at the best of times.

“But that’s what makes it an even bigger challenge for us, and we’re quite proud of our rugby down here in Munster too. Last time, we had a pretty disappointing performance against Cardiff and it would have been nice to get out there again the following week and atone for that.

“Instead, we’ve had to wait and that has been frustrating because we feel we have addressed the mistakes we made that night and we hope to show that we’ve learned by producing a big display in Belfast.”

The positive thing, said Quinlan, was that Munster were similarly short of their top players in the corresponding fixture last year.

“They should have learned from that experience too; a good few of the lads will certainly know what to expect. We have trained and prepared quite well.

“Guys are jumping out of their skins to get a game. We’re all hungry for matches and I think the stop-start element of the campaign has been frustrating for a lot of guys,” he said.

MUNSTER SQUAD: C. Cullen, I. Dowling, B. Murphy, T. Halstead, L. Mafi, B. Carney, T. O’Leary, J. Manning, E. Hickey, B. O’Meara, T. Buckley, J. Flannery, F. Sheahan, D. Hurley, T. Ryan, E. McGovern, C. Wyatt, D. Ryan, S. O’Connor, M. Melbourne, R. Noonan, J. O’Sullivan, A. Quinlan, T. McGann.

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