Hopes rise for Hanrahan as Penney ponders changes in back row

Munster are holding out hope that fly-half JJ Hanrahan will make it onto the plane for Marseille today as the Irish province head into Sunday’s Heineken Cup semi-final with Toulon.

Hopes rise for Hanrahan as Penney ponders changes in back row

Hanrahan was initially thought to have no hope of being passed fit for the Stade Vélodrome showdown with the defending champions, having suffered a groin injury during the defeat by Glasgow on April 14. Yet, having made what head coach Rob Penney called “miraculous progress” in his recovery process, the prospects of scrum-half Conor Murray having to take over back-up place-kicking duties to starting fly-half Ian Keatley appear to be reducing by the day.

While Murray has continued to practise his goal-kicking, Hanrahan is understood to have resumed straight-line running and light kicking and Penney will leave it as late as possible before making a final decision on the Kerryman’s prospects of taking his place on the bench.

Penney, who is required to name his team by midday today, is also understood to be considering changes in his back row, with Sean Dougall vying with Tommy O’Donnell for the number seven jersey while Donnacha Ryan is an option at blindside should the head coach consider CJ Stander more effective off the bench.

Casey Laulala is expected to resume his role at outside centre having recovered from a broken bone in hand while loosehead prop James Cronin is back in contention for the matchday 23 having shaken off a sprained ankle.

While the Munster team depart for Marseille today, chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald has reiterated his organisation’s commitment to selling the naming rights to Thomond Park as the province attempts to keep pace with the big-spending French and English clubs.

“We constantly assess our governance, see where we are going and what we need to change,” said Fitzgerald. “We have seen the way other entities have developed. We need to keep pace with them on a commercial front to ensure we remain competitive on the field at the top level.

“The environment has changed enormously here, there is less money in circulation and there is more competition for funding and sponsorship.

“The commercial board are constantly looking at options and the naming rights to Thomond Park is one of them. But the package has to be right. The right partner has to be found.”

A number of GAA county grounds, such as Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan and Elvery’s McHale Park in Castlebar, have sold naming rights, while Aviva purchased the naming rights before the new Lansdowne Road stadium opened.

Yesterday, Bolton Wanderers announced that their ground, known as the Reebok Stadium since it was built in 1997, would be known as Macron Stadium for the next four years.

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