O’Connell makes Munster return

Having defied medical opinion and returned to match fitness a month earlier than expected, Paul O’Connell sets out this afternoon on a path that could see him feature for Munster in next month’s Heineken Cup quarter-final with Harlequins.

O’Connell makes Munster return

O’Connell will play the first 40 minutes of the A Interprovincial clash with Leinster at UL Bowl (2pm), his first outing since undergoing surgery for a bulging disc in his lower back on New Year’s Eve.

“Paulie has done a massive amount of controlled physical work and has got himself into a very good position,” explained Ian Costelloe, Munster skills coach and A team coach. “He has worked unbelievably hard to get to this stage and with the help of the medical and fitness staff, has got himself into a situation where we have no concerns about him coming through 40 minutes.

“After that, we are hopeful of more game time for Paulie against Connacht and Glasgow by the end of March so that he should be ready for the Heineken Cup game against Harlequins on April 7.”

O’Connell’s progress is a huge morale booster for the Munster squad, many of whom will be hoping to catch the management’s eye in this afternoon’s game.

All three members of the back-row, Sean Dougall, CJ Stander and Niall Ronan, are battling for places against Quins along with several other members of the extended 27-man squad. “This is an important match for a variety of reasons,” says Costelloe. “It will provide valuable game time for a number of players and for the team it is a chance to maintain our good record against Leinster in the A Interpros. They are bringing a cracking team with the likes of Fionn Carr and Andrew Conway among the subs. We also have a B & I Cup quarter-final against Cornish Pirates looming and there is great competition for places in that side.”

Quinn Roux, the towering South African whose time with Leinster has been blighted by injury, lines out in the second row for the visitors and his clash with O’Connell adds further spice to the game, for which admission is free.

MUNSTER A: J Murphy; L O’Dea, D Barnes, I Dineen, R O’Mahony; JJ Hanrahan, C Sheridan; J Cronin, S Henry, J Ryan; D Foley, P O’Connell; N Ronan, S Dougall, CJ Stander.

Replacements: M Horan, D Casey, N Scannell, K Griffin, B Hayes, Dave O’Callaghan, B Slater, S Deasy, C Bohane, C Hircock, S Scanlon, J Holland.

LEINSTER A: N Reid; A Boyle, J Coghlan, C O’Shea, S Coghlan-Murray; C Marsh, J Cooney; J O’Connell, A Dundon capt, M Moore, M Flanagan, Q Roux, B Marshall, C Gilsenan, L Auva’a.

Replacements: J Tracy, J McGrath, T Furlong, T Beirne, D Leavy, A Griggs, F Carr, A Conway, D Doyle.

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