The league leaders go to Rodney Parade for their second visit to south Wales in a week having defeated Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park last Saturday. That game saw Penney begin to re-integrate a number of the players absent during the international window on Ireland duty with Stephen Archer, James Coughlan, Donncha O’Callaghan and Mike Sherry all featuring off the bench in the bonus-point victory.
There will be a further opportunity for those forwards to get valuable game time under the belt this weekend ahead of the back-to-back Heineken Cup pool games with Perpignan on December 8 and 14 but the expected availability of Ireland wing/centre Earls following five weeks on the sidelines with a knee condition is a further boost to Munster’s hopes of qualification from Pool 6.
Earls was forced to sit out Ireland’s autumn Tests having developed patella tendonitis on the eve of his province’s league trip to Glasgow on October 25 and now Munster’s Rabo and European ambitions are also enhanced by the availability of centre James Downey and fly-half Ian Keatley, both of whom missed last weekend’s game due to groin issues.
“I’m very confident Earlsy will be available,” Penney said yesterday. “He hasn’t had anything for the last three or four weeks now so he’s a likely guy to be involved this week. James Downey is another one that hasn’t been available to us for three or four weeks now so he comes into the selection framework as well as Ian Keatley.”
Penney also held out hope that Munster’s three starters for Ireland against New Zealand last Sunday, national team captain Paul O’Connell, club skipper Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray might also be made available by the IRFU to face the Dragons, although O’Mahony reported back to his province with a dead leg.
“The guys that have been in national camp, I haven’t had too many meetings with them as yet, but they’re not totally ruled out is my understanding so we’ll just see.
“I haven’t spoken to (O’Mahony) directly but via the medical reports he got a dead leg or Charlie or whatever you want to call it, there are multiple names for a badly bruised quad.
“All indications are that he won’t be right this week anyway, but they’re (the three Ireland starters) not out of contention.”
Definitely available for selection is South African utility back van den Heever, and though he is not registered in the current Heineken Cup squad, he could be set for his debut after arriving from Western Province a fortnight ago with a groin injury.