Reds fighting fit as star trio on mend

MUNSTER supporters needn’t worry. As the province trained at the University of Limerick yesterday afternoon for Sunday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against the Ospreys, Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell and Doug Howlett were missing, but the trio were subsequently included in the 26-man squad.

Coach Tony McGahan also said the three stars would be fit and ready to play in Munster’s biggest game this season, the province’s 100th Heineken Cup fixture.

McGahan said: “The guys picked up some knocks over the weekend (against Leinster), but we would be very confident all three will be right to go on Sunday.”

He said Howlett was being given time to recover from a mild virus, while pointing out that O’Gara (bruised leg) and O’Connell (bruised hip) took a limited part in the morning session.

Tony Buckley also trained, a leg injury sustained on Saturday having responded to immediate treatment.

McGahan also included six top back row players in his squad — David Wallace, Alan Quinlan, Donncha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy, and Nick Williams, adding that Munster could call on any three of the six and come up with a top class combination.

Consideration will be given also to the possible influence of referee Wayne Barnes, with McGahan admitting his Munster side fell foul of the Englishman on the penalty count in both the home game against Montauban and the away game to Clermont Auvergne. He also noted that the penalty count against Ireland in the Grand Slam decider against Wales was 5-17 under Barnes.

McGahan said there would be no attempt to second-guess Barnes’s approach but admitted: “In all big games you have to take the referee into account. In other games in which he has officiated, we were certainly on the wrong end of the penalty count, although it evened up a bit at the back end of each game.

“But from our perspective, the major thing we had trouble with was where (field position) we gave the penalties away. That added to the scoreline in both of these games and it’s certainly a concern.”

While McGahan doesn’t believe a pre-match meeting with Barnes would solve anything, he said the squad would have looked at past matches under Barnes’ direction: “We would do that as a matter of form every week, and that certainly won’t change. We need to ensure we control what we can, and that’s being technically efficient at the breakdown and vigilant enough not to give away any cheap penalties.

“Of course, one must take the referee into account because inevitably he plays a part. Last weekend, for instance, (when Christophe Berdos refereed) there were different interpretations and you certainly have to be aware of what the referee’s traits are in a human respect.”

Another hurdle will be preparing for a 1pm start, McGahan said.

“It’s not perfect from a preparation point of view.

“It involves a different routine for the players, but I suppose we’re lucky in that we have had a few of our games over the years played at the same time. To compensate for that, we’ve brought forward lots of our sessions to earlier in the day so that the players are used to getting up early, and I can’t imagine that it will be a deciding factor in what happens.”

Overall, he said last weekend’s win over Leinster was just what Munster needed.

“It was good to get a hard, physical, game in; it probably helped being at home as well and I really don’t think we could have asked for anything more.

“The Ospreys are an excellent side, we recognise how difficult it is to get into the quarter finals; history suggests it’s a very difficult thing to do. We certainly recognise the work that has gone on in that region to bring them to where they are today.

“I believe it will be a really tight game; we played over there this year, won 25-21, and it was tight all around the park; there is great individual attack available on both sides, but both teams are well organised in defence. I’d expect it to be a very close encounter, without doubt.”

MUNSTER (from): forwards: M. Horan, F. Pucciariello, J. Flannery, D. Fogarty, J. Hayes, T. Buckley, D. O’Callaghan, P. O’Connell, M. O’Driscoll, A. Quinlan, D. Ryan, D. Wallace, N. Ronan, D. Leamy, N. Williams; backs: T. O’Leary, P. Stringer, R. O’Gara. L. Mafi, K. Earls, B. Murphy, D. Howlett, I. Dowling, K. Lewis, P. Warwick, D. Hurley.


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