Peter Stringer may be the smallest player on the pitch, but he won’t be the least obvious as he sets out to win his 200th cap for the province he has served with distinction for more than a decade.
Having been released temporarily from the national squad to injury-hit Munster, Stringer will undoubtedly play more than a bit-part in this important fixture for the league leaders, a fixture that has remarkable meaning from his point of view in that he made his Munster debut against Ulster and also won his 100th cap against them a few seasons ago.
Yesterday Munster manager Shaun Payne – in admitting team selection had to be deferred due to injury, suspensions and unavailability of players – hailed the scrum-half’s contribution past and present, especially when he was recently playing second-fiddle to the now injured Tomás O’Leary.
“It was particularly tough for him, but he has also been very resilient, very determined in training. He has kept his chin up during what must have been a tough time when it comes to selection, having been at the top and obviously having to deal with Tomás (O’Leary) and other guys on the Irish team.
“But he has played very well over the last couple of weeks and put himself right back into contention again on a national level as well.”
Payne pointed out that iconic former skipper Anthony Foley was first to reach the milestone and that Alan Quinlan recently pushed on to 202 caps. Now, he said, Stringer would be joining a hugely impressive list of players.
He said: “Obviously Axel was the first to get there (200 caps), Quinny recently did it. If you look at the number of games he (Stringer) has been involved in, his numbers have been right up there and it’s clearly a very, very good achievement by any stretch of the imagination.”
Payne, however, wasn’t totally joking when he said: “In terms of a squad this week, we don’t have a squad. Our current situation is that we have ten out injured, two suspensions, plus nine players in the national squad. That leaves us with 16 full time professional contracted players plus six development players.
“The numbers aren’t good for us, as they aren’t for any of the other provinces this week. I know Ulster are struggling with injuries as well. It will be a challenging week for selection, no doubt. The resources of our squad will be stretched to the absolute limit. We have 21 unavailable players from a squad of 44.”
For that reason, he said, players from the Academy will be involved – hence Munster’s decision to shelve an A game earlier in the week. It does, however, provide a challenge for some young players as well, the likes of Sean Henry, Mike Sherry and Ivan Dineen. “We’ll obviously be dipping a bit lower down the ranks,” admitted Payne.
Sherry has already earned a stripe by scoring Munster’s last try against Treviso and Payne praised him commenting: He’s a very bright prospect. If you look at the resources we have available, Flann’s (Jerry Flannery) is out, Fogarty (Denis) is out, and Damien Varley is involved with the national squad.
“I think he (Sherry) took his try particularly well and showed a very good turn of pace. His general ball-carrying ability around the pitch was excellent. We are definitely very encouraged with his performance and what we’ve seen in training during the season as well.”
A more seasoned player coming off the back of injury will be available. Barry Murphy is back in the mix and Payne intimated he might get game time in Belfast, although stressing he has had only 40 minutes of rugby to fall back on.