Belfast Telegraph

Heineken Cup: O’Connell boost for Munster

By Niall Crozier

Paul O’Connell starts his first Munster match in 359 days when he runs out in the Stade Felix Mayol today (3pm) looking to help the province keep their Heineken Cup hopes alive.

Munster need to beat Pool Three leaders Toulon to avoid the prospect of going out at the pool stages for the first time since 1998 and, despite the second-row’s shortage of game time following his injury and suspension issues, coach Tony McGahan has turned to the inspirational O’Connell in his hour of need.

“It’s great to have him,” said Johne Murphy, who starts on the left wing. “It’s little snippets he throws in that are vitally important to us. He has an air of leadership, responsibility and everything around him.”

Peter Stringer starts at scrum-half ahead of Tomas O’Leary while Sam Tuitupou returns to the midfield next to Keith Earls against a powerful Toulon side featuring Jonny Wilkinson at out-half and Felipe Contepomi at centre.

Meanwhile, Leicester have lost the services of their captain and Ireland international Geordan Murphy for today's crunch Heineken Cup clash against the Scarlets.

Full-back Murphy was carried off during last weekend's Aviva Premiership victory over title rivals Northampton. It is thought he could struggle to play again this season.

The Scarlets lead the group, two points above Leicester, while Perpignan are a further point back. Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill said: “Scarlets are top of the pool and they have some very dangerous players and some good experience in their side.

“We are going quite well, too. We have won our last two away games and we had a good win against Northampton, who have been going well all season.”

The Scarlets, beaten five times by Leicester in six previous Heineken Cup meetings, are bolstered by fly-half talisman Stephen Jones' return from a knee injury.

Wales international and double Grand Slam winner Jones makes his first start since before Christmas.

Tomorrow's action sees Wasps heading to Glasgow in Pool Six, where victory for the Londoners would keep them in touch with group favourites and reigning European champions Toulouse ahead of their Adams Park meeting next weekend.

The Ospreys, meanwhile, must inflict an 11th successive defeat in all competitions on Madejski Stadium hosts London Irish to keep alive hopes of progressing from Pool Three.

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