Big guns back in harness for tricky Dragons test

THE first wave of Munster’s cavalry return tonight to face the Dragons at Rodney Parade (7.05pm) but given the province’s recent form, a rescue mission is hardly necessary.

Tomás O’Leary, Lifeimi Mafi, Johne Murphy and John Hayes were all named in the match-day squad yesterday for the Magners League away day to Newport, with the remaining Munster men among Declan Kidney’s international squad due back next Tuesday.

Scrum-half O’Leary missed the four-Test Guinness Series with a broken thumb suffered against Leinster, but will start. Mafi is named among the replacements, having been suspended for seven-week ban following a dangerous tackle made in the same game. Hayes and Murphy were both released from the national squad, not needed for the Argentina game on Sunday.

“Tomás has recovered from his thumb injury,” Munster team manager Shaun Payne said. “He’s been training with us to a limited degree. We didn’t want him to do damage. He’s had his recovery period now and he’s fit and ready to go.”

Payne was also delighted with the return of Mafi and Murphy, of whom the team manager said had been one of Munster’s “star performers” this season.

“If national management don’t require him, we will gladly take him back,” Payne said of Murphy.

“Lifeimi has been caged up for the last seven weeks. It’s been difficult for him. We’ve been relatively successful over the last couple of weeks with the Australia game, a good performance up in Ulster, and with 21 contracted players missing we still managed to win against the Scarlets.

“There is a good feeling in the squad at the moment and it’s been difficult for Mafs to sit and watch that. He’s also raring to get back into it and make a contribution. There is only so much training you can do.”

Mafi will have to wait a little longer to unburden his frustrations, with Irish international Barry Murphy given the chance by Tony McGahan.

Murphy, 28 on Sunday, was gently reintroduced to competitive action following a 12-month struggle with an ankle problem.

He came off the bench in the victory over Australia and started last Sunday evening against Scarlets, scoring a try in the thrilling 27-26 success at Musgrave Park.

“I was happy to be back playing, get through 80 minutes and to get a result,” Murphy said.

“I’ve had a good few games with UL Bohs before and got the cobwebs out of my system, but I was just really mad to get back playing and be involved. I didn’t have any doubts. I’m confident that I can play at this level and I just need to be given a chance.”

After a prolonged absence, Murphy said he has maintained plenty of ambition: “To play as many games as I can for Munster. I’ve been involved with the squad for seven years and there has been a lot of success.

“We’ve been there on the big days lifting trophies and I’d definitely like to do that again. We have ourselves on a bit of a roll at the moment, and I want to do my part to help.”

Picture: Tomás O’Leary: missed Ireland’s autumn series with a broken thumb.

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