Payne puts positive spin as Dragons loom large

THE waiting game is always the worst and Denis Hurley is hoping against hope that a scan on an injured right knee will provide good news today.

But as Munster sweat on the long-term availability of the in-form Hurley, there is more positive news in advance of Saturday’s Magners League clash with Newport Gwent Dragons at Musgrave Park (7.30pm).

Declan Kidney has released Peter Stringer and Denis Leamy from the national squad to allow them participate in a match against opposition that could hardly be described a shrinking violets. One of Munster’s three losses in this campaign was against the Dragons in Rodney Parade, and it was the most conclusive defeat of the lot (20-6).

Yesterday, Munster team manager Shaun Payne admitted he was unable to make a call on Hurley’s immediate future, but accepted it was “a relatively serious injury.”

“You never know about these things, though, it mightn’t be half as bad as we think and we could all be smiling. We have to wait until we get the result.”

In fairness to Denis, he put in a string of recent very good performances; he was one of the form players of the back line of late.”

Payne warmly welcomed the re-introduction of Stringer and Leamy. “Strings has been having a great period, discussed in the press and everything, we’re absolutely delighted to have him back involved, he’s one of the guys involved in the success of Munster for so long and he has been in great form as well. Enough about Leamy; he is one of the kingpins of the Munster team right now.”

Munster’s game this week is regarded as just one part of a four-part challenge, this being the fourth. The Magners League leaders have won two of the last three and view victory in this as essential in their bid to regain the title from holders the Ospreys.

And the manager highlighted the contribution of younger players that had significantly helped the province stay in pole position throughout a difficult campaign.

“Danny Barnes comes into our squad this week and we have people like that; unfortunately Peter O’Mahony is unavailable because of injury; we have (Ian) Nagle, (Simon) Zebo, (Conor) Murray all these youngsters are giving impetus to the team through good performances. This part of the season is exciting because you get to see guys like that more exposure; another guy is Tommy O’Donnell.

“It is a while since I’ve heard anyone talk about Munster being over the hill; if you look at the signings we’ve had recently, you must look at the youngsters coming through into contracts, there is definitely a young emphasis coming into the team and we’re delighted.”

Munster didn’t have any more of a choice at scrum-half or prop, with Tomás O’Leary and John Hayes both ruled out, and Irish interests taking precedence. “It’s an ongoing process both from a management and medical point of view; the care of the players is utmost.”

But on a very positive note, the province can look forward to the return of Felix Jones, who should make his recovery (this time from a knee injury) permanent by coming through a game with Munster A against Ulster Ravens in Belfast two weeks from now.

Payne reckons the return of Jones could be a significant step forward.

“That’s very exciting for us, we see what he is capable of in training, what he brings; unfortunately the neck injury he had before and the knee injury this season hasn’t allowed him to be exposed as much as we would like. The fans haven’t had the opportunity to see what type of an exciting player he is.”

MUNSTER: J Murphy, D Barnes, L Mafi, S Tuitupou, S Zebo, P Warwick, P Stringer, D Williams, C Murray, S Deasy, D Howlett, D Cusack, W du Preez, D Varley, T Buckley, D Fogarty, M Horgan, S Archer, I Nagle, M O’Driscoll, D Ryan, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan, B Holland, A Quinlan, D Leamy.

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