Manning decides to go back to NZ

PAUL O’CONNELL, Alan Quinlan, Tony Buckley and Peter Stringer return to strengthen Munster’s Magners League challenge this weekend, but the search for Ronan O’Gara’s back-up seems set to continue after Jeremy Manning’s announcement that he is to return to New Zealand at the end of the season.

The Kiwi has called time on a four-season long sojourn rugby career in Ireland and will return to NPC outfit North Harbour, despite another contract offer from Munster.

The 22-year-old explained: “It had always been my intention to return home at some stage and the offer from North Harbour probably hastened that decision. It was a great opportunity to play at a different level and it was one I felt I just couldn’t let go.”

Manning, who will most likely be on the bench tomorrow against Cardiff behind Paul Warwick, has been contracted to Munster for three of the last four years and has played in 32 competitive matches. He was also in the 2006 Heineken Cup winning squad.

As Munster prepare for a crucial Magners League game against the Blues, the New Zealander made it clear he had enjoyed his time here.

“I appreciate all I have learned,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision not to accept the offer of another contract but I didn’t want to be looking back in years to come and wonder how I might have fared in NPC.”

Munster coach Declan Kidney has named a 26-strong squad in advance of tomorrow night’s clash. Kidney has actually named five prop forwards in that squad, an area which in other times might be seen as a problem.

But as Federico Puciarriello and Tony Buckley are likely to start, the injury threat to Darragh Hurley can’t be deemed that worrying given the availability of Tim Ryan and Eugene McGovern.

On another positive front, Brian Carney, Doug Howlett and Ian Dowling are available as is O’Connell, who has come through a long number of difficult weeks.

Also, Jerry Flannery is back in light training and will probably be back to take on the physical side of things next week.

Rua Tipoki was not considered because of a slight back strain, but Kieran Lewis is ready to take his place alongside Lifeimi Mafi.

Add Howlett, Carney, Peter Stringer and Shaun Payne into the equation and Munster will hardly be going to Wales short of a deck of cards.

Meanwhile, Munster would need to keep the eye on the ball in terms of keeping younger players sweet, although it’s mostly good news on that score with a vibrant, and with some evidence so we’re told, competitive situation at academy and development level.

It’s not a huge blow to see Shannon hooker Sean Cronin move to Connacht because there was really nothing to pin him down to guaranteed regularity in Munster.

Cronin turned down a development contract to join Connacht on a full-times basis, a good decision for a young player with ambition.

Indeed, it didn’t actually bring any adverse reaction from Munster, where he had an Academy contract.

Said chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald: “Sean needs to compete on a regular basis and we wish him the very best with Connacht.”

MUNSTER SQUAD: Forwards — F. Pucciariello, F. Sheahan, D. Fogarty, T. Buckley, D. Hurley, T. Ryan, E. McGovern, P. O’Connell, D. Ryan, M. Melbourne, N. Ronan, A. Quinlan, J. Coughlan, T. O’Donnell, A. Foley, J. O’Sullivan.

Backs: P. Stringer, T. O’Leary, J. Manning, P. Warwick, L. Mafi, K. Lewis, I. Dowling, D. Howlett, B. Carney, S. Payne.

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