O’Connell could return to competitive action by Christmas

MUNSTER manager Shaun Payne revealed last night that Paul O’Connell could lead the province “in one of the two Heineken Cup matches against the Ospreys” next month.

The former Lions skipper has yet to resume full training as a result of the groin infection that has sidelined him since March but remains on target to return to competitive action before Christmas.

Payne also admitted O’Connell’s international colleague Tomás O’Leary requires ‘three to four weeks’ recovery from the fractured thumb he sustained in the defeat to Leinster game last month while hooker Jerry Flannery (calf muscle) could feature in the Magners League clash with the Llanelli Scarlets on November 21st.

The injuries to the trio coupled with 12 squad members in camp with Ireland resulted in Payne yesterday announcing an extended 30 man panel for the visit of Australia to Thomond Park on Tuesday in the Sony Ericsson Challenge.

Payne said: “We have no idea who will be released to us from the national squad or indeed if anyone of the 12 up there will be released. Anyone we get back, we will regard as a bonus. I have claimed all season that we have a stronger squad this season than ever.”

And he is expecting the clash with Australia to be on a par with the visit of New Zealand to Limerick two years ago.

“We know they are a quality side as we saw in the game against the All Blacks out in Hong Kong. They have an unbelievable skill set.

But for as long as I’ve been involved with Munster, I’ve never had a fear of being blown away.

“I know any team we put out will be difficult to beat, especially at Thomond Park.

“You only have to recall the buzz after the New Zealand game two years ago and there’s a similar feeling for the players. It’s unique and a chance to put one over on an international side.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been at a game that had the atmosphere of the All Blacks match two years ago, it was a near riot, standing down there and watching what was happening in the stands.

“Whether that can be repeated depends on how the game pans out.”

MUNSTER SQUAD: M Sherry, S Henry, W du Preez, P Borlase, D Ryan, S Archer, D Foley, I Nagle, B Hayes, B Holland, A Quinlan, N Ronan, J Coughlan, T O’Donnell, P O’Mahony, P Butler, D Williams, P Warwick, C Murray, D Cusack, JJ Hanrahan, T Gleeson, B Murphy, S Tuitupou, I Dineen, D Howlett, S Zebo, S Scanlon, D Hurley, S Deasy.

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