Picturedabove: Munster prop Darragh Hurley sends Tomas O'Leary into mid air ashe practices his tackling at Wednesday's training session at TempleHill in Cork.
With loosehead prop Marcus Horan (calf)set to miss his first Heineken Cup game this weekend since last April'ssemi-final against Leinster, Hurley is in a battle with much-lovedItalian prop Federico Pucciariello for the number 1 jersey.
Pucciariello, who picked up a knock in last Sunday's Magners League winover Connacht, trained on Wednesday and is favoured to face the Blues.Hurley, the 21-year-old Munster Academy member, has played five timesfor the province in this season's Magners League.
Christian Cullen chases Peter Stringer, oneof Munster's try-scoring heroes from last season's Heineken Cup final.The former All Black bagged a try on his return to Munster red lastweek, taking his tally for the provinces to 14 tries in 36 starts.
Cullen's New Zealand Test match try-scoring record still stands - 46 touch downs in 58 Tests - with Joe Rokocoko (35) and Doug Howlett (44) the only current players within sight of it. Cullen's classification as an overseas player in the Heineken Cup past last month - Munster's only overseas players now are Jeremy Manning and Tim McGann.
Fleet-footed former Taranaki centre Lifeimi Mafi (left) goes through some stretches at the session at Temple Hill. The 24-year-old has already played five times for Munster since venturing north from New Zealand in October.
Mafi has a Tongan passport which means he is not deemed an overseasplayer, due to an EU ruling which classifies Pacific Islanders andSouth Africans as members of the Commonwealth.
Irish international John Hayes works through some stretching in Cork. The experienced prop was one of the players Munster coach Declan Kidney was missing when the men in red last met the Cardiff Blues in September.
"I was very proud of our performance on the night. I thought a lot ofthe younger lads dug in well. But I'm under no illusion that they're a team that are creating a lot and defending very well." Munster lost that Magners League tie 22-13 at the Arms Park.
Ireland hooker Frankie Sheahan stretches alongside Shannon's 6ft 5in prop Tony Buckley, whomade his Munster debut against Northampton in August of last year.Sheahan is three games away from making his 50th Heineken Cupappearance.
The Cork Constitution clubman has done excellently to work his wayback from the career-threatening neck injury he sustained against Salein October of last year. His rehab included some kick boxing trainingwith his friend Colin O'Shaughnessy, a multi-world champion.
Kilkenny-born winger Ian Dowling isthe man in the middle as the Munster squad go through their warm-uproutine. The 24-year-old has scored two tries in his seven Heineken Cupgames to date - his late score came in the 41-23 win over Bourgoin inPool 4 in October.
Last season saw him voted Young Player of the Year by the Munster Rugby Supporters Club.
Munster and Ireland back rower Denis Leamy is beeming as he gets past Donncha O'Callaghan during the training session. The Tipperary man turned 25 last week. Inhis 16 Heineken Cup games to date, he has played in all three positionsin the back row - he was at six for the win over Leicester and steppedin the injured Anthony Foley's shoes to fill the number 8 jerseyagainst Bourgoin in October.
**All photos by Billy Stickland of Inpho Photography**