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Zebo eyes up return to action in Belfast

By Kevin Mitchell

Simon Zebo is on the verge of a return to action for Munster over the Christmas period – with an away date in Ulster pencilled in for his comeback.

But after their Heineken Cup heroics in Perpignan last weekend, Rob Penney's side are likely to be without Keith Earls, Ian Keatley, Paul O'Connell and captain Peter O'Mahony for their Pro12 clash with Scarlets on Saturday.

Earls left the field in a dazed state in the closing stages of Saturday's epic encounter at the Stade Aime Giral and will be further assessed this week, while Keatley is likely to miss out with a dead leg and hip flexor problems.

Penney said that both O'Connell and O'Mahony are unlikely to play any part this weekend because of the IRFU's player-management programme.

But the impending return of Zebo has boosted the Munster squad ahead of their festive programme. The winger broke a bone in his left foot during Munster's sole Heineken cup defeat to Edinburgh in October but now, after missing seven games, he is on the verge of a return.

"Zeebs hopefully will be back around Christmas time. We're looking possibly at Ulster (RRO12, January 3) and that's if everything goes to plan," said Penney.

"He's up and doing a little bit of running on a gravity treadmill and so he is making good progress to that end. But he obviously hasn't put the boots on yet or run around on grass.

"Earlsey had a head knock and he is going through the protocols in terms of a return to play. He'll probably (be out) but that will come to fruition in the next 48 hours. But it is highly likely that he won't be available.

Meanwhile, Penney moved to rubbish reports that recently retired World Cup-winning All-Black hooker Andrew Hoare could be on his way to Thomond Park to plug the hole vacated by the injured Mike Sherry. According to the coach, there is no truth in the rumours.

"Pie in the sky," Penney said. "Just because it's printed doesn't mean it's real."

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