Munster must plan without big guns

IRELAND has first call on a number of Munster players in the build up to another key Magners League clash against Ulster at Ravenhill on Saturday.

National requirements (rest periods) mean that Munster coach Tony McGahan will be short captain Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, John Hayes, David Wallace, Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary and Keith Earls.

Additionally, Marcus Horan, Darragh Hurley, Jerry Flannery, Barry Murphy, Felix Jones, Jeremy Manning, Dave Ryan and Denis Leamy are all ruled out through injury.

But if that sounds like a crisis, it’s not all bad news for the current champions according to team manager Shaun Payne, as Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi and Alan Quinlan return to strengthen the squad from last week’s win over Connacht.

The South African was pleased with what he saw at Thomond Park as Munster overcame what proved to be the usual dogged resistance from Irish rivals Connacht; this time, they did much better than usual to produce a bonus point victory that secured a comfortable place in the top four; Glasgow Warriors lead with 27 points from Leinster (26), the Ospreys (25) and Munster (25).

He is also pleased with where Munster are at the minute, saying: “We knew it was going to be a disruptive season because of the Lions trip and there was going to be a strain. Yes, it was disruptive and we did have a slow start to the season but there will be no excuses for what happened at certain stages.

“Now we are very well placed without showing any sensational form up to the present, bar that great performance in Perpignan. It’s great to be placed where we are in the Magners and Heineken Cup.

“Following that sensational performance in Perpignan, the guys showed good form as well in the Connacht game, so I feel we are progressing nicely as opposed to last year when we started with five out of five in the Magners League; we went on to win it but obviously came up short at the end of the season in the Heineken Cup.

“My view now (coming to the end of 2009) is that we just seem to be building form and that relates to just about everyone in the squad. Facing into a new year, the only downside is the couple of recent injuries and particularly the one to Denis (Leamy); he has his best game in two years against Perpignan and it was ironic and so unfortunate that he should pick up the injury when contesting for possession in the very last ruck of the game.”

Ulster, he is certain, will provide daunting opposition this weekend.

“It’s a hard place to play in, a very hard place to emerge from with a win – and they did the double over us last season. We know what faces us; they played particularly well against Leinster last weekend and showed they can attack from anywhere on the pitch. They have a hugely competitive back row, an out-half (Ian Humphreys) that controls matches and a very dangerous running centre in Cave (Darren); all in all, it will be a tough game for us,” he said.

Munster (from): S Deasy, D Hurley, D Howlett, I Dowling, T Gleeson, L Mafi, J de Villiers, P Warwick, D Williams, P Stringer, W du Preez, J Brugnaut, S Archer, T Buckley, D Varley, D Fogarty, M Sherry, M O’Driscoll, D Ryan, A Quinlan, B Holland, N Ronan, T O’Donnell, N Williams, J Coughlan.


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