Paul O’Connell has been included in a Munster squad for the first time this season, making it into the province’s 29-man panel for their Magners League meeting with the Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park on Saturday (kick-off 5pm).
The selected Munster squad includes 17 players who got game-time in last weekend’s 20-6 defeat to the Newport Gwent Dragons.
Ireland internationals Peter Stringer, Ronan O’Gara, Keith Earls, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Donncha O’Callaghan, David Wallace and Denis Leamy, who all played in the 29-9 victory over Argentina, are back on provincial duty.
The fit-again Johne Murphy and Alan Quinlan are also pushing for selection, but the sight of Paul O’Connell’s name in the Munster panel will garner most of the pre-match interest.
The 31-year-old lock has not played for his native province since last January, due to a groin problem and subsequent complications.
After taking his first steps back in a 40-minute runout for Young Munster against Shannon last Friday, O’Connell said: “My plan now is to play as many games as I can, be it with Young Munster, Munster ‘A’ or Munster, whatever I can, in order to improve my match fitness.
“Tony McGahan will decide where I go from here. It will probably be during the week when any decision is taken.
“I would have struggled with 80 minutes (against Shannon), but I felt better than I thought I would.”
Saturday’s match has been brought forward to a 5pm kick-off as Munster officials make every effort to have the game played despite the adverse weather conditions.
The pitch at Thomond Park has been covered since Wednesday, with stadium officials confident that the game will go ahead as temperatures are forecast to rise slightly on Friday and Saturday.
The squad was forced to change their training on Tuesday from UL to Garryowen and today they again had to move from CIT to the excellent all-weather facility at Colaiste Stiofain Naofa.
Head coach McGahan will confirm Munster’s starting line-up and replacements on Friday afternoon.
MUNSTER Squad (v Cardiff Blues) – Backs (12): Peter Stringer, Tomas O’Leary, Ronan O’Gara, Paul Warwick, Denis Hurley, Sam Tuitupou, Keith Earls, Barry Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Johne Murphy, Scott Deasy, Doug Howlett.
Forwards (17): Wian du Preez, Dave Ryan, Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Tony Buckley, Peter Borlase, John Hayes, Mick O’Driscoll, Ian Nagle, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Alan Quinlan, Billy Holland, Niall Ronan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy, Peter O’Mahony.