MUNSTER coach Tony McGahan has tipped Tony Buckley to make a huge impact on Irish rugby this year.
McGahan yesterday reflected on what many Buckley fans have been thinking since the powerful prop reached a new level on Ireland’s summer tour to Australia and New Zealand – that he is a viable long-term replacement for veteran great John Hayes.
“When you’re trying to get starts for both provincial and national teams, the biggest requirement is that you get a string of games and to be able to play injury free,” McGahan said.
“For different reasons, some within his control and some outside of his control, that full development hasn’t transpired but in my time here he has certainly proven he is well and truly up to both levels and he has the capacity to make an impact in the game; the sign of a good player.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do this season; he’s coming off some good game time he got on the national tour through injury, he took those opportunities, he’s trained accordingly and we’ve seen evidence of that in the last two weeks.”
McGahan is convinced the sheer physicality Buckley brings can be of huge benefit to Munster.
“You’re always looking for your best carriers to get their hands on the ball and combined with his physical presence ... Tony with ball in hand is a big threat for us and a weapon we would like to continue see grow.”
Buckley will be part of a bid to pick up Magners League points at Edinburgh this Friday that will be strengthened by the return of senior internationals Ronan O’Gara, Tomás O’Leary and Donncha O’Callaghan.
All three will get game time off the bench but plans for Jerry Flannery (hamstring) and David Wallace (back) to join them were thwarted as both continue to have treatment for injuries, while Lifeimi Mafi is still a week away from full fitness. Yet, while others such as captain Paul O’Connell, Keith Earls, James Coughlan and youngsters Dave Ryan, Tom Gleeson, Barry Murphy and Declan Cusack are still out, team manager Shaun Payne believes Munster are in a good place.
“The (injury) list is longer than we want but we’re quite positive,” Payne said. “We have Mafi coming back and most of the guys shouldn’t be out for long; Paulie (O’Connell) is the one long-term injury.
“It’s not a chronic injury list when you consider the squad (29) we have been able to name for this week’s game. We have had some positives to report, like Denis Leamy and Donncha Ryan coming back in. All of our front rows bar Dave Ryan are injury free and that’s unusual even at this stage of the season.”
Munster are intent on picking up more away wins this season than last, with Payne highlighting the importance of performing on the road following a year when they managed just two Magners victories out of nine.
“If you want to pick up a semi-final spot then you’ve absolutely got to string together some away wins,” he said. “Needless to say you also want to win all your home games. Munster’s away record was pretty good up to last season when, for some reason, we just didn’t get enough of them for our liking. So far, we’ve done well in our home games but this weekend’s a massive one.”
Payne insisted the mood in the camp was positive following encouraging pre-season displays against Leicester and Gloucester in addition to a Magners League-opening victory over Aironi last Saturday.
“This time last season we had lost our opening match to Glasgow and we’re very positive after last weekend. There is a deal to be worked on, nobody here is saying otherwise, but we have identified what we need to do. That would include work in the lineout and in ensuring we don’t turn over as much ball as we did against Aironi,” he said.
Munster’s scrum has improved considerably but Payne insists the squad haven’t underestimated the need for further progress.
“We identified things that needed to be done right back at the start of last season and it has been a work in progress. Teams everywhere are putting a lot more emphasis on the scrum and there were games last season when we let ourselves down. Now we just realise there has been an improvement and that, hopefully, will be an ongoing process.”
MUNSTER (from): D Hurley, S Deasy, F Jones, I Dowling, D Howlett, D Barnes, J Murphy, S Tuitupou, R O’Gara, P Warwick, D Williams, T O’Leary, P Stringer; W du Preez, M Horan, D Varley, D Fogarty, J Hayes, T Buckley, D O’Callaghan, B Holland, D Ryan, M O’Driscoll, I Nagle, A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Leamy, T O’Donnell, P O’Mahony.
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