‘Perfect storm’ scenario for clubs

MUNSTER manager Shaun Payne last night described the clubs as the “lifeblood” of the game in the province in the wake of criticism of the provincial set-up by officials at grassroots level.

Several clubs slammed the Munster management for their failure to release key players for their Ulster Bank League engagements on Saturday. Payne claimed he had sympathy for their concerns but stressed player welfare was their chief concern due to a congested fixture list.

Payne said: “It’s in our interests the clubs do well but we have to balance the full picture. Obviously there are requirements from the IRFU on us and there are the requirements of the A team game.

“We’re down players to the national squad already, we have two Magners League fixtures to contest, plus the British and Irish Cup game in between.

“There are limited resources for us and there are limited resources for the clubs so it was almost a perfect storm scenario. We realise the clubs are the lifeblood of the system and understand their worries. We have a similar situation when players are taken from us by the national set-up without us expecting it. But that’s the way it is.”

Payne also warned that the situation could become worse next season with the introduction of a rule stipulating that only two contracted players, one back, one forward, may play an Ulster Bank League match and that no non-Irish qualified players will be eligible.

Meanwhile there is contrasting news on the injury front for the province. Felix Jones trained with the squad at UL and looks on course for a return to action for the first time since early season. Alan Quinlan, sidelined since dislocating his elbow in the game against Connacht in December is also back in training with Payne hinting that he could be considered for the visit to Aironi on Sunday. Back-row forwards Niall Ronan and Peter O’Mahony are also on the mend and should be available in the near future.

However, the news is less encouraging about hooker Jerry Flannery, who is awaiting tests on the cause of calf injuries in both legs, and John Hayes who is three or four weeks away from a return from a groin injury. The indications are that neither will be available for Ireland’s remaining Six Nations matches.

Munster are delaying the naming of a squad for Aironi until they know the names of those who will be released back to them by the national management while they were also waiting on the outcome of last night’s A game.

Meanwhile Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named a 29 man squad for Friday’s crucial match against the Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill (7.05pm). Ian Humphreys is named despite his late withdrawal from the Scarlets match due to a shoulder injury. Patrick Jackson, who made an impressive debut at out-half in Humphreys’ absence, has been released to re-join the Ireland U-20 squad. Darren Cave returns to the squad for the first time since November after recovering from a hamstring injury. Prop Alan Whitten earns a recall to the squad but there is no place for David McIlwaine.

ULSTER (squad v Cardiff Blues): Forwards: J Cronin, D Fitzpatrick, P McAllister, B Young, A Whitten, N Brady, A Kyriacou, R Caldwell, N McComb, J Muller, T Barker, P Wannenburg, TJ Anderson, W Faloon, C Henry, R Diack. Backs: R Pienaar, P Marshall, I Humphreys, N O’Connor, I Whitten, N Spence, L Marshall, D Cave, S Danielli, T Seymour, C Gilroy, J Smith, A D’Arcy.

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