Depleted Munster boosted by returning quartet

THE sense of gloom that enveloped the Munster squad after serious injuries to Felix Jones, Ian Dowling and Denis Fogarty lifted considerably yesterday with the news Denis Hurley, Denis Leamy, Lifeimi Mafi and David Wallace have regained full fitness and are included in the squad for Friday’s clash with the Glasgow Warriors at Firhill.

This is the first appearance of the season for Mafi and Wallace after recovering from shoulder and back injuries respectively while Hurley came through a couple of A games, shaking off the effects of a knock to his head and neck and ongoing hamstring problems.

Mafi is in a similar situation so the return of the quartet is welcomed by coach Tony McGahan and especially so in the case of Hurley, given Jones and Dowling are unlikely to play before Christmas.

Hurley is equally at home at full-back and on the wing, positions where opportunity knocks after the injuries to Dowling and Jones, and is now keeping his fingers crossed the niggles that have interrupted his career at frustratingly regular intervals may now be a thing of the past.

“Obviously it’s a tough week mentally for the three guys,” he said. “I suppose I’ve been lucky enough never to have a serious injury like them that needed surgery. Of course, it does give me an opportunity and hopefully I will take that opportunity on Friday night if I’m given it. I’m not looking beyond that.”

Hurley, who recently celebrated his 26th birthday, has set a place on the starting XV when the Heineken Cup gets under way in a couple of weeks time as a target. He acknowledges it won’t be easily achieved, even in the absence of Jones and Dowling and the considerable doubt as to whether Keith Earls will make it back in time. He points to “the amount of talent around at the moment and the younger players coming through”.

The break he longs for may well come in Glasgow. He was included in the squad for Firhill, confident more than hopeful the troublesome hamstrings — he has torn both — have now been stabilised and that he knows how to manage them and keep them flexible. Even so, nothing is assured when one is involved in a squad of Munster’s depth.

After his man-of-the-match display in the victory over the Ospreys, Doug Howlett is sure to be retained on the right wing but that would still leave Danny Barnes and Johne Murphy in the running for the number 11 jersey. In spite of all the injuries, Munster don’t appear to be at all short of talent, a situation that delights manager Shaun Payne.

“Lifeimi Mafi played very well in the A game last week and that’s a big positive for us,” he said. “Denis Leamy (a late defection against the Ospreys because of a knock to his ribs), is back as well and David Wallace, who was struggling with a slight back issue, is fit to go. The injuries are very hard on the guys, especially Felix, but it’s nothing we haven’t had to deal with in the past.”

There may be those who believe the Munster squad is too big and unwieldy and too many players will be confined to the fringes of the action for large portions of the season. But Payne insists the injury count is inevitably so high that they must have a large group to pick from.

“We have the Magners and ERC games and then the internationals and the World Cup coming up so there are plenty of games to go around,” he maintained.

Payne is more than pleased with what he described as “a solid start to the season so far. A month ago, we would have been glad to have three out of three. At the weekend, our breakdown work was very good although we have a long way to go in terms of our work on the set piece.

“We will be travelling to Glasgow with confidence. We have a real buzz in the squad this year, there’s a lot more competition for places and I definitely think we’re travelling in the right direction. We’re looking to improve our away form and this will be another test for us.”

MUNSTER squad: P Warwick, D Barnes, D Hurley, D Howlett, J Murphy, L Mafi, S Tuitupou, S Deasy, R O’Gara, P Stringer, T O’Leary, M Horan, W du Preez, J Hayes, T Buckley, M Sherry, D Varley, M O’Driscoll, D Ryan, D O’Callaghan, B Holland, A Quinlan, P O’Mahony, D Wallace, J Coughlan, N Ronan, D Leamy.

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