Tuitupou in dock but Flannery back

THE availability of centre Sam Tuitupou hinges on the outcome of today’s ERC disciplinary meeting in Dublin, but Munster have been boosted by the availability of hooker Jerry Flannery for Saturday’s must-win Heineken Cup clash with Toulon at Thomond Park.

Tuitupou is in the dock to face a dangerous tackle charge that earned him a yellow card in the loss to London Irish last weekend. If the

disciplinary committee decide that the offence merits further punishment, Tuitupou will be looking at a

minimum three-week ban.

Yesterday, team manager Shaun Payne looked on the bright side. With the disciplinary hearing more or less out of Munster’s control, he expressed delight that Flannery was finally back in the mix after a long lay-off with calf/hamstring injuries.

The Irish hooker has been named in a squad and Payne reacted by saying: “He has been coming on nicely and had 40 minutes for Shannon at the weekend after which there was noadverse reaction. He’s confident and we are too that he is on the mend.”

Similarly, Payne reported positively on Keith Earls, the centre having come through his first game in months, and he also gave the thumbs up onwounded flanker Niall Ronan.

“Keith was both relieved and delighted to have come through the challenge,” said Payne.

“You can train as much as you want but you need match fitness as well. He enjoyed it but found it a bit toughtowards the end.”

Ronan, should be okay for the weekend, reported Payne: “It was a fairly large and nasty gash; that’s why he didn’t come back on the pitch and that’s why he has his scrum cap ontoday (at training).”

Of far greater concern is the casualty list behind the scrum where there are key players injured, one suspended and another under threat of same.

“In terms of the squad we announced on first registration date, we have lost Felix (Jones), (Ian) Dowling, Tomás (O’Leary) and (Lifeimi) Mafi; there is no answer, you can’t lose that many quality players and not be worried but we will leave the hearing for tomorrow and see what happens.”

Payne – who also admitted an improvement in the line-out was required – is sure that Toulon will come to play, and that coach Philippe Saint-Andre will leave no stone unturned in a bid to secure victory on the road.

“It’s a French team; you never know what’s going to happen but Saint-Andre knows what to expect and I’m sure he will have them ready to go.”

Payne wasn’t prepared to second-guess Saint-Andre’s team selection, though, even on foot of rumours that Felipe Contepomi and not Jonny Wilkinson will start at 10. “We will wait for the announcement. Philippe obviously has issues with their squad in relation to non-European qualified players of which they can use only two. They do have a numbers issue but I feel he will put out his strongest side.”

MUNSTER (from): W. du Preez, M. Horan, M. Sherry, J. Flannery, D. Varley, J. Hayes, D. Hurley, T. Buckley, B. Holland, D. Ryan, D. O’Callaghan, M. O’Driscoll, A. Quinlan, D. Wallace, N. Ronan, D. Leamy, P. O’Mahony, J. Coughlan, D. Williams, P. Stringer, R. O’Gara, S. Deasy, P. Warwick, D. Barnes, K. Earls, J. Murphy, S. Tuitupou, D. Howlett, D. Hurley.

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