O’Connell back at last for Munster

Having been sidelined since October with a back problem, Munster second row Paul O’Connell returns to the starting team for the RaboDirect PRO12 interprovincial showdown against Connacht at Musgrave Park on Saturday (5.45pm).

O’Connell back at last for Munster

Having been sidelined since October with a back problem, Munster second row Paul O’Connell returns to the starting team for the RaboDirect PRO12 interprovincial showdown against Connacht at Musgrave Park on Saturday (5.45pm).

O'Connell underwent surgery in late December to address a bulging disc which was pressing against a nerve in his lower back.

Back injuries have been a recurring problem for the Limerick man who suffered similar problems in 2002 and 2008.

Donnacha Ryan is left out of the squad, having started all in of Ireland’s RBS Six Nations games, meaning O’Connell will pack down alongside Donncha O’Callaghan with Billy Holland dropping to the bench.

In total Munster head coach Rob Penney has made just three changes from the side that drew with Ospreys, with all those changes coming in the pack.

In the backrow Sean Dougall returns to the starting line-up for the first time since January’s League encounter with Edinburgh and is joined by Tommy O’Donnell and James Coughlan.

The backline remains the same as does the front row of Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley and Stephen Archer while Niall Ronan is included in the match day squad for the first time since November.

Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony are also rested having seen a lot of game time over the Six Nations while Penney must cope without injured wingers Keith Earls and Luke O’Dea.

There’s only one play-off place within Munster’s reach but Welsh outfits Ospreys and Scarlets are also in the hunt so all eyes will be on the Stadio XXV Aprile and Liberty Stadium tomorrow night when Scarlets play Zebre and Ospreys take on Dragons.

Those games will give Munster a clearer understanding where they stand, before a ball is kicked this weekend, they know exactly what’s required from them in Musgrave Park on Saturday evening.

Munster (v. Connacht): F Jones; D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, D Hurley; R O’Gara, C Sheridan; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; T O’Donnell, S Dougall, J Coughlan.

Replacements: M Sherry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, B Holland, N Ronan, D Williams, I Keatley, I Dineen.

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