MUNSTER CAN GO second, behind Ulster, in the league this evening if they complete a Pro12 double over Cardiff Blues.
Their coach, Rob Penney, enjoyed a winning round of inter-pros over Christmas and has signed up the province’s most promising players to new contracts.
The Kiwi has plenty of reasons to be cheerful but the best news to emerge is that Paul O’Connell has Munster and rugby to look forward to.
The lock had surgery on his injured back on New Year’s Eve and is targeting a return to action in April.
Penney commented, “It is critical that Paul can lead a normal life no matter what he chooses to do after the operation.
That looks as if it will be highly likely and it will include some rugby, which is great for everyone involved.
“The [statement] that he put out says, hopefully, he’ll be back in three months time so we’ll see how that unfolds.”
Penney explained that O’Connell, frustrated with the back problems that have kept him inactive since mid October, sought a second opinion.
He explained, “The two surgeons – the one that gave the initial opinion and the second opinion – got together, put some options to Paulie and he took the surgical one pretty quickly.
Penney is pleased with the trajectory his side are on but knows nothing has been decided or won yet.
Contracts for nine players, including Sean Dougall, JJ Hanrahan and Simon Zebo, have been signed and sealed and the Kiwi is ‘rapt’ about it.
He commented, “They’re the core of the future of this group and there’s still one or two [to sign]. Hopefully those lads can get through, relatively unscathed, in the next 10 years and be great names for Munster.”
Contract renewals for the likes of Wian du Preez and BJ Botha are next on the negotiating table and Penney’s decisions to keep or dispatch certain overseas players will give an indication of what direction he wants the province to move.
He raves about the “fantastic” Sean Dougall, signed to a two-year contract. The form of the Scottish born back-row has been a welcome surprise for Munster since his move from Rotherham Titans in the summer.
Perth-born Sean Dougall is Irish-qualified. (©INPHO/Cathal Noonan)
“For a guy to come out of where he has come out of, to do so well at Heineken Cup level early on, he has proved his worth,” said Penney.
“He’s assiduous, has a work ethic to detail, and is a conscientious young man. Behind the scenes he is working hard to get better at everything he does.”
Winning in Cork
Penney is wary of the increased threat Cardiff Blues will provide now that star platers Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenney are coming back to full fitness.
He is also looking to improve Munster’s return from home games at Musgrave Park following losses this season against Scarlets and London Irish [pre-season].
Penney said, “That was a really tough game away, the last time we played, and they’ve probably be one of the unluckier teams results-wise. They’ve been there or thereabouts.” He added:
They’ve picked up a couple of good results recently and they’ll have a couple of their long-term injuries back in the frame and they’ll be really tough.
“We haven’t gone that well at Musgrave Park and that is something we need to rectify.”
*TheScore.ie will be liveblogging all the action from Musgrave Park from 7:15pm.
Audio courtesy of Limerick’s Live 95fm.