Munster duo have eyes on Heineken Cup spot

MUNSTER second-row forwards Chris Wyatt and Donnacha Ryan are auditioning tonight for a starting place in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Llanelli.

With Paul O’Connell out injured and Mick O’Driscoll unlikely to recover for the game in Wales, either Ryan or Wyatt will partner Donncha O’Callaghan in the quarter-final based on their performance in tonight’s Magners League clash at Ravenhill with Ulster.

Injuries have forced Munster coach Declan Kidney to name an under-strength side for tonight’s game (Setanta, 7.30pm) at Ravenhill.

Stand-in Munster captain Alan Quinlan acknowledges the challenge.

“It’s certainly a challenge. There’s a tremendous atmosphere in Ravenhill; it’s always a tough place to play but a challenge is a challenge, and that’s why we’re here.”

Munster will also have to rely on second-choice half backs, while coach Declan Kidney is worried about the fitness of Shane O’Connor. He may be able to call upon former captain Anthony Foley, however, who has been making huge progress in recent weeks.

Wyatt will make his 11th appearance for Munster and tonight will be his ninth start. Despite the fact that the second row selection has been dominated by the three Irish internationals, he has managed to partner the youthful Ryan three times this season.

Ryan, just 23, played twice in competitive matches for the province last season as an Academy player and has been brought on to a development contract this year. He has played for Munster on seven occasions and this will be his fourth start.

Coach Declan Kidney has other selection issues: he has had to name Barry Murphy on the wing while giving Lifeimi Mafi an opportunity to line out at outside centre alongside Trevor Halstead.

Kidney will be hoping his squad avoids further injury, given that John Kelly is almost certainly ruled out of next week’s Heineken Cup quarter final with a hamstring strain. With Shaun Payne also doubtful, it means Christian Cullen — who starts at full-back tonight — will probably get the number fifteen jersey against Llanelli.

Kidney remains upbeat, however: “It’s a chance for some other guy to step up and take it on. We could beat ourselves up and worry about injuries, but it’s a long season.”

MUNSTER (v Ulster, Ravenhill): C. Cullen, B. Murphy, M. Lifeimi, T. Halstead, I. Dowling, E. Hickey, T. O’Leary; E. McGovern, J. Flannery, T. Buckley, C. Wyatt, D. Ryan, A. Quinlan (capt), J. O’Sullivan, T. McGann.

Replacements: F. Sheahan, T. Ryan, M. Melbourne, S. O’Connor/A. Foley, B. O’Meara, J. Manning, B. Carney/K. Earls.

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