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Munster’s O’Connell Some Way Off Return

Munster’s O’Connell Some Way Off Return

Munster captain Paul O’Connell, who is currently nursing a back injury, saw a specialist yesterday and Munster coach Declan Kidney said that while the second row “may avoid surgery,” it will be “four weeks before he can start training” and that it will be a few weeks after that before the Limerick man will be fit to play.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kidney confirmed a 26-man squad for Munster’s crucial Heineken Cup pool game against Clermont Auvergne, which heralds the temporary re-opening of Thomond Park next Sunday.

The game kicks off at 1pm as there are no floodlights, and is a sell-out as only 12,000 spectators will be admitted to a stadium which, when completed, will be able to hold 25,000.

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Regarding Kidney’s squad selection, winger Ian Dowling returns and prop John Hayes, who has been nursing a neck injury, is also expected to be fit to play.

Kidney agreed that the French club looked “awesome” in their bonus point win over Llanelli Scarlets last Sunday and he rates them as good as any side Munster have played against.

“To score seven tries against Llanelli was some feat. They are a very dangerous side and they can attack in so many different ways,” he admitted.

“They can attack from straight off a set piece, from a lineout, they can go down the touchline, they can come round the corners at you and they have the skill to go wide and their two wingers are like extra forwards in their size.”

Kidney does not believe that this French side will not travel well. “They have huge experience,” he countered. But the Munster boss feels that if his players can raise their game a little, it will certainly go a long way to securing their first win in this season’s competition.

“Our intensity was good for 95% of the game against London Wasps and if we can all bring 1% more to this game it could be the difference between winning and losing. If we do a lot of what we did last Saturday and add to it in what we know about Clermont, then we will be there or thereabouts,” he said.

Kidney added: “You always want to play well at home. Once you lose your first game in this competition you are into cup final mode in every game.”

Asked about the early kick-off on Sunday, Kidney said: “Sometimes chicken and pasta is not great at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning but players have to re-fuel and we are planning for that situation. Players will be rising earlier and getting their body clocks in tune.”

Kidney is due to name his starting team and replacements on Friday.

MUNSTER Squad (v Clermont Auvergne): Forwards (14) – Federico Pucciariello, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Tony Buckley, Frankie Sheahan, Jerry Flannery, Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Jake Paringatai, Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy, Anthony Foley.

Backs (12) – Shaun Payne, Denis Hurley, Brian Carney, Anthony Horgan, Ian Dowling, Kieran Lewis, Lifeimi Mafi, Rua Tipoki, Paul Warwick, Ronan O’Gara (capt), Gerry Hurley, Peter Stringer.