Foley faces nervous wait as Smith a doubt for Clermont clash

Munster head coach Anthony Foley yesterday added new centre signing Pat Howard to the province’s registered European Champions Cup squad as doubts continued over Andrew Smith’s fitness ahead of Saturday’s must-win pool showdown with Clermont Auvergne.

Foley faces nervous wait as Smith a doubt for Clermont clash

South African Howard, signed from Western Province last month on a short-term deal as injury cover for long-term absentees Keith Earls, Cian Bohane and the still-to-arrive Tyler Bleyendaal, returned to limited training yesterday having suffered a concussion in a collision with team-mate JJ Hanrahan in the first half of his home debut against Ulster on Friday night.

The 22-year-old will continue his return to play protocols as Foley waits on Smith, signed in the summer from the Brumbies. He was also hurt in the Pro12 win over Ulster, and although he finished the game, his injured knee underwent a scan on Monday. Foley will make a decision on his and Robin Copeland’s availability tomorrow, the back rower having suffered a small tear on the lower part of his hamstring during a tackle by Craig Gilroy.

“Andrew is improving. The swelling has gone down in his knee. He is a bit more confident but I need to see him train and run before I am confident,” Foley said yesterday. “That will be Thursday before we sit down and have a look at that, and see whether he can train on Thursday or not.

“Robin took part in some org (an organisational walk through) this morning, didn’t take part in the field session, so we just need to see how he responds in the next couple of days again.

“Paddy Butler got a bang on the hip so he did a bit of running there today as well. He got some work done.”

Howard’s inclusion in Munster’s European squad comes at the expense of fly-half Johnny Holland, who was de-registered after tearing a hamstring playing for Munster A against Nottingham last Saturday. Also injured in that game was wing Luke O’Dea, who broke a hand, and prop Alan Cotter, who tore his bicep.

Munster’s five Irish internationals — Dave Foley, Conor Murray, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo — who were not available to the province last week following their exertions against Australia — all successfully returned to training yesterday. Scrum-half Murray has been cleared to play this weekend, having completed his return to play protocols following a concussion against the Wallabies.

As for Howard’s inclusion, Foley said it was a calculated risk using one of his wild cards with four rounds of pool action still to play, but added: “I think it was prudent. There is no point in having him there, looking at him, and we are not going to find out about him (Smith) until Thursday.

“Hopefully it doesn’t came back on us and backfire.

“This is the best, most prudent thing we can do. Hopefully Andrew will come through. If he doesn’t, we have Johne Murphy who can play No.13, Pat Howard can play there, we have a couple of looks at him and Ivan Dineen can play there, he played there for the A side in Cork at the weekend.”

Meanwhile there was good news for Ulster yesterday as their Springbok scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and Ireland lock Dan Tuohy returned to training with both hoping to be ready to face Scarlets on Saturday evening in Belfast.

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