MUNSTER 'A' 24 LEINSTER 'A' 17, University of Limerick
Scorers: Munster 'A': Tries: Ronan O'Mahony, Danny Barnes; Con: JJ Hanrahan; Pens: JJ Hanrahan 3; Drop: Scott Deasy
Leinster 'A': Tries: Andrew Conway, Cathal Marsh; Cons: Noel Reid 2; Pen: Noel Reid
Paul O'Connell lined out for Munster 'A' in their interprovincial win over Leinster 'A', playing the opening 40 minutes in his first appearance for the province since October's Heineken Cup pool win over Edinburgh.
The second row has been sidelined since then, missing most of Munster's season as well as Ireland's GUINNESS Series and RBS 6 Nations campaigns.
He had to undergo surgery to rectify a bulging disc in his back just over 10 weeks ago, and showed admirable patience as he awaited his return to pitch action.
It came on Tuesday and speaking to journalists afterwards, O'Connell was pleased with his 40-minute run-out which brought a large crowd of over 2,000 spectators to the ground.
"I'm injury free but I don't know about fit. It was very enjoyable. The lads played some great rugby. Luckily enough, it was a great day, a dry ball and that makes it harder on the lungs which is exactly what I needed," he said.
"It was really enjoyable and good to get the win as well. I've done plenty of fitness sessions which in some ways are harder than this.
"But it's just the intensity of getting up off the ground, of trying to be dynamic and get up and do it again five or six times in a row. That's something that's hard to replicate in training, especially in contact.
"So yeah, I was definitely blowing but I'm delighted. I don't feel any ill-effects now or anything. I feel good."
Asked about his options going forward, he explained: "The plan was to play today and see how I am tomorrow. And then I'll start planning again from there. The hope would be to be involved in the next couple of RaboDirect PRO12 games, first and foremost.
"The more games I can play the better. I think the Heineken Cup is definitely on for me. I'm available for selection anyway. The two lads (Donnacha Ryan and Donncha O'Callaghan) have been playing very well so we'll see what happens."
There is a possibility that O'Connell could get more game-time with his club Young Munster who meet Cork Constitution in the Ulster Bank League on Saturday.
Munster head coach Rob Penney stated: "The next 48 hours will determine if he plays for his club this weekend. If it is the right thing for Paul, then it's the right thing. We'll see how he backs up. I love the guys playing their club rugby when they can.
"I'm really pleased for him that he got through 40 minutes today and looked vigorous. I was watching him closely around the contact area, the areas you need to be robust and he could have been potentially compromised but he didn't look like he was flinching at any time.
"He looks like he is on the mend and he is on track for a little bit more footie in the next week or so."
There were further positives for Penney in the second half as Munster 'A' saw out a well-judged seven-point win. Three penalty goals from the boot of Munster 'A' out-half JJ Hanrahan proved the main difference between the provinces.
South African second row Quinn Roux also made a successful comeback from injury, playing for an hour in his first appearance in Leinster colours since November.
The hosts went in front in the eighth minute thanks to a penalty goal from former Ireland Under-20 international Hanrahan, who had captain Cathal Sheridan alongside him.
Their lead did not last long, however, as some quick hands in midfield created the opening for Leinster 'A' full-back Andrew Conway to sprint clear of the defence and race away to the line. Centre Noel Reid duly added the extras.
Munster 'A' got their noses in front in the 32nd minute when Hanrahan landed his third penalty from close to the left touchline.
They led 9-7 at the break and went further ahead in the 42nd minute when winger Ronan O'Mahony scored a fine try in the right corner. Hanrahan's conversion gave his side a sizeable 16-7 lead.
To their credit, the youthful Leinster 'A' outfit responded in fine style and out-half Cathal Marsh sprinted clear up the right touchline before dotting down in the 46th minute. Reid's conversion reduced the arrears to 16-14.
Munster 'A' regained control five minutes later, however, when Ivan Dineen broke up the middle of the pitch. Following a quick recycle, his centre partner Danny Barnes touched down in the left corner.
Girvan Dempsey's men had a one-man advantage on the hour mark when Munster 'A' replacement Scott Deasy was yellow carded. Reid landed a penalty goal from in front of the posts to leave four points between the sides, 21-17.
Leinster 'A', who had emptied the replacements bench on the hour mark, were unable to make the most of the sin-binning and a late drop goal from the returning Deasy guided Munster 'A' home.
MUNSTER 'A': Johne Murphy; Luke O'Dea, Danny Barnes, Ivan Dineen, Ronan O'Mahony; JJ Hanrahan, Cathal Sheridan (capt); James Cronin, Sean Henry, John Ryan, David Foley, Paul O'Connell, Niall Ronan, Sean Dougall, CJ Stander.
Replacements used: Sean Scanlon for O'Dea (38 mins), Brian Hayes for O'Connell, Duncan Casey for Henry, Marcus Horan for Cronin, Cian Bohane for Murphy (all half-time), Scott Deasy for Hanrahan (53), Alan Cotter for Ryan (63), Corey Hircock for O'Mahony (65), Johnny Holland for Barnes (69), Brian Slater for Sheridan (72), Willie Ryan for Ronan (76).
LEINSTER 'A': Andrew Conway; Andrew Boyle, Jordan Coghlan, Noel Reid, Sam Coghlan Murray; Cathal Marsh, John Cooney; Jack O'Connell, Aaron Dundon (capt), Martin Moore, Mark Flanagan, Quinn Roux, Ben Marshall, Conor Gilsenan, Leo Auva'a.
Replacements used: Darragh Fanning for Coghlan (54 mins), Dan Leavy for Roux (60), James Tracy for Dundon, Jack McGrath for O'Connell (both 62), Fionn Carr for Boyle (66), Tadhg Furlong for Moore, Tadhg Beirne for Auva'a (both 68), Paddy O'Driscoll for Cooney (71).
Referee: Kieran Barry (IRFU)