Paul O’Connell and the bulk of Munster’s Irish international contingent are “on schedule” to make their seasonal debuts in 16 days’ time at Ravenhill.
Munster team manager Niall O’Donovan said the players managed by the IRFU player welfare programme, including lock O’Connell, had been cleared to play in round three of the RaboDirect Pro12 campaign, at Ulster on Friday, September 14.
Munster kick-off the Rob Penney era on Saturday at Murrayfield, when they open their season against last term’s Heineken Cup semi-finalists Edinburgh, with flanker Tommy O’Donnell the only fresh absentee due to bruised ribs sustained in thefinal pre-season friendly defeat to London Irish last Friday.
O’Connell, who handed the Munster captaincy to Doug Howlett last week, has been out of action since May with a serious knee injury first sustained in the Six Nations against France two months previously. He is, however, on course to join the likes of Ronan O’Gara, Keith Earls, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo in getting a run out at Ravenhill, although forwards Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony will be given an extra week to complete their conditioning.
Having been on both sides of the player availability process as a member of provincial and national teamcoaching set-ups, O’Donovan fully understands the merits of allowing Test players proper rest periods.
“It is in all our best interests to look after the players and make sure they are able to play the vital games we want them to play,” O’Donovan said. “You’d love to be able to play Paul O’Connell week in week out but you can’t. So you have to get a guy who is gone into his early 30s now and mind him, and it is the same with the younger guys coming through, like Peter O’Mahony, and make sure they are getting the proper pre-season and make sure they are ready to go into battle when the time comes.
“We work closely with the Irish management on when we can slot guys in and when we take them out. So they’ll play a certain amount of games in the first lot of the season, but they’ll have their time off as well. And they have to have their time off, otherwise they are a spent force.”
Of Munster’s players on the treatment table, openside flanker Niall Ronan is just a fortnight away from a comeback, having been out since last Christmas with a cruciate knee ligament injury, and could return for the province’s opening home league game at Thomond Park against Benetton Treviso on September 7 or the following Friday in Belfast. Back row Dave O’Callaghan suffered a calf tear in training before the London Irish friendly and will be out for two to three weeks, while lock Ian Nagle is three to five weeks away from full fitness following right shoulder surgery in the summer.
After a year on the sidelines following two knee operations, centre Troy Smith is five weeks off hiscomeback while full-back Felix Jones has been given a timeline of five to seven weeks to return from the left shoulder injury he suffered last season. One area where Munster are not short of numbers is in the front row, where 22-year-old prop John Ryan was allowed to join London Irish on a three-week loan to cover injuries on both sides of the scrum.
“They made contact, they were short of props,” O’Donovan said. “All our props are healthy at the moment so we thought he might benefit from a bit of time over there and get a look at the broader picture.”
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