Irish stars back for Munster’s clash with Edinburgh

MUNSTER have been handed a massive boost ahead of Friday’s Magners League tie against Edinburgh with confirmation that Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer and Denis Leamy have been released from the national squad.

Tony Buckley is available after recovering from a hamstring injury while Marcus Horan and Denis Fogarty are also expected to feature for the first time this year after seeing AIL action last weekend.

The return of an established front row triumvirate is welcome after Munster slumped to a 19-18 defeat to Benetton Treviso on Sunday after the Italian minnows won seven penalties for scrum-related infringements.

Whilst the front row misdemeanours of Italian international props Ignacio Fernandez Rouyet and Lorenzo Cittadini went largely unnoticed, all four Munster props were frequently reprimanded by referee James Jones.

Erroneous preconceptions have already proved costly for Munster this season, and whilst manage Shaun Payne avoided any direct criticism of the Welsh whistleblower, he expressed concerns.

“There is a concern (about perception), and it is a talking point,” he admitted. “Whether that is correct or not is up for debate. It’s being discussed, and it would be remiss of me not to say that it is a concern, because it is. If there is a preconception there and the first penalty goes against you, you are then up against it for the rest of the game. The only thing we can do is sit down, work on the scrummaging week in week out, as we are doing, and look to improve it and put pressure on other sides. We can change the perception that way.”

Payne also called for the IRB to look into the current four-step engagement process, commenting: “It’s gone a little bit crazy. You can talk about interpretations but the referees are under massive pressure. This is why we are getting strange decisions. I have never played in the front row, I don’t profess to have a clue why a scrum collapses, and I guarantee there are many front rowers who would look at it and wouldn’t know either. But I think that far too much of our attention is getting drawn into this scrum time debate. It needs to be sorted.”

An official squad has not yet been named but all available players are likely to be called up to an enlarged squad, with those considered surplus for Friday night’s match expected to make up the numbers in the British and Irish Cup panel ahead of next Tuesday’s tie against Bristol. Such a drain on provincial resources could leave certain clubs undermanned ahead of a crucial weekend of AIL action, though as of yesterday evening there was no sign of any official requests for postponement.

Meanwhile Sky have confirmed they will broadcast Munster’s Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final against Brive on Saturday, April 9 (1pm, Irish).

The satellite giants last night confirmed plans to cover all four quarters live, for the first time. ERC chief executive, Derek McGrath said: “This welcome move by Sky Sports confirms the ever-growing stature and appeal of the Amlin Challenge Cup. With three former Heineken Cup winners in Wasps, Brive and Munster, the quarter-finals promise to provide matches high in both intensity and quality.” The game will also be shown on Eurosport.

Elsewhere the Leinster squad continued their preparations for Saturday’s Magners League clash against the Cardiff Blues in Cardiff City Stadium (6.30pm) with a training session in UCD. Shane Horgan is continuing his rehabilitation on the knee injury this week, which was sustained in the victory at Racing-Metro 92 in January, and a further assessment will be made before deciding on his availability for this weekend’s game in the Welsh capital. Officials hope Cook Islands prop Stan Wright (Achilles) will be available for selection for the first time since August as he steps up his second successive week of full training.

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