O’Gara faces a possible suspension, having been cited for an incident in last week’s win over Edinburgh, and Keatley is poised to make just his third Heineken Cup start and the second at number 10.
Yesterday, he won a seal of approval from former colleague Jerry Flannery, who urged 25 year-old Keatley to stamp his own class on the tie and prove he can be every bit as effective as O’Gara.
The combative Flannery had his own personal battle for a few seasons with fellow Munster hooker Frankie Sheahan and knows how hard it is to slip one over established players.
“He’s a mature fella, very balanced,” Flannery said of Keatley, “obviously, if Rog is not available, there’s pressure on him and a lot of people focusing on him, just as there was in the first Edinburgh game, but he came through that fine; if you asked the lads beforehand would they take a bonus point win from that they would have been quite happy.”
Flannery urged Keatley to be his own man should the opportunity to play arise: “Until such time as Rog has retired then Keats will always have to listen to people saying how Rog would have done it. I’d encourage him to go in and put his own stamp on the game and I think he’s capable of doing that.
“The difficult thing, despite the fact that he (Keatley) has been given a good few starts this season, is that he knows he is not yet first choice; a big thing for players like Keats is to get the nod when there’s a big, big game coming up, that’s a huge confidence boost.
“That’s what I found anyway, there was a time when I was playing only, or I felt that anyway, to be given a run but when it came to the big games Frankie was getting picked ahead of me, it took an injury to Frankie for me to be given my opportunity and I used that time to do my job well.
“Rob (Penney) appreciates what Ian can do on the field of play and to that extent he has got a good few chances. He has the attributes, now he has to make the big step up in a big game.
“Rog is an incredible player but Ian is a bright, mature guy and ambitious, if he plays this week it is as good a chance as he is going to get. Yes, there could be a bit to lose but there is also a huge amount to gain for him.”
Meanwhile, Munster prop Dave Kilcoyne believes a packed Thomond Park on Sunday will lift them over the line against Racing Metro and clinch a quarter-final spot.
“There is no better place to try and do something. Hopefully we’ll have everyone out and fit and that we can get that win or whatever we need to do on Sunday,” he said.
Mike Sherry and Stephen Archer are winning their battle to make the match-day squad. Sherry (ankle) and Archer (thigh) have shown encouraging signs that they will be back in time for the match, the outcome of which could define Munster’s season.
Hamstring victim Johne Murphy is also back in training this week, but Niall Ronan (neck) is up to a month away from regaining fitness.