LIFEIMI MAFI is set to provide Munster with another boost this weekend when he makes his long-awaited return from injury.
However, his first game in four months will be with Munster A against Ulster at Nenagh on Friday and not in the Magners League clash with the Ospreys at Thomond Park (8pm) the following night.
Still, as Munster named an unchanged group of 29 players toprepare for the big game, Mafi’simportance to the senior squad was highlighted by team manager Shaun Payne.
“We are very happy with the recovery he has made (from shoulder surgery); we’re putting him out for this A game with a view to having him for the upcoming ERC (Heineken Cup) matches.
“He has been absolutely outstanding for us in the past couple of seasons; that goes without saying. Last season he was struggling a bit with that shoulder and right throughout the season it was something that was hanging over him.
“But he’s vital to us. He’s a dynamic player and I think once we have Keith Earls in there as well, alongside Sam Tuitupou and Johne Murphy, we’ll have some options and lots of depth,” said Payne.
Further good news is that Earls continues to make progress in hisrecovery from an ankle strain, and he is still on course to make it back for the start of the Heineken Cup.
Stability was the key once again to selection for this weekend’s gamefollowing the return of Donncha O’Callaghan, Ronan O’Gara and Tomás O’Leary for last week’svictorious trip to Edinburgh.
Of the 29, Tommy O’Donnell, Ian Nagle, Billy Holland, Duncan Williams, Scott Deasy and DenisHurley were the six to lose out for squad selection in Edinburgh andinstead participated in Munster A’s victory over Leinster in Dublin.
Whether that will be the same this time around remains to be seen, with Payne hinting there might just be one or two alterations to last weekend’s travelling 23.
Selection will continue to be a man-management issue both from a provincial and national selection perspective, with Paynerevealing: “It’s up to us to conform to the general guidelines within the three phases of the season, although the one thing to remember is that we wouldn’t be starting our top players in all of the games anyway.
“Generally the two requirements of both teams tend to complement one another; at the end of the day it’s the players we have to look after.”
Payne is happy with three wins on the bounce following an opening pre-season friendly defeat to Leicester Tigers, but reckons there is a lot more to come from Munster.
Conscious of the many errors made during the first half in Murrayfield and of the close call they had before securing a 16-13 victory, Payne believes it’s a work in progress thing for Munster.
“There were positives,” he said. “We put a lot of phases together, particularly in the first half hour and maybe just lacked a bit of patience. Ultimately, we played well enough to win and we stuck to our guns.”
But having secured an away victory, he is aware that the Ospreys will be looking for much the same onSaturday, knowing they come toLimerick without excess baggage since breaking the Thomond Park hoodoo last season.
“They had good results against us and Leinster last year so they will have the confidence now to go with what has always been an excellent squad.
“I was involved with the Welsh provinces before I came here and the quality of play I found to be excellent; they maybe needed a bit of confidence through results, and they got both the results and the silverware last season which was a huge boost.”
Last year’s result still hurts, admitted Payne, but he believes Munster have figured out how it happened.
“Mistakes, our mistakes, far, far too many of them; mistakes and discipline (lack of it); the penalty count was what did us on the day although obviously the Ospreys played well.”
MUNSTER (from): D Hurley, F Jones, S Deasy, I Dowling, D Howlett, D Barnes, J Murphy, S Tuitupou, R O’Gara, P Warwick, D Williams, P Stringer, T O’Leary, 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 (captain), T O’Donnell, P O’Mahony.
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