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Amlin Challenge Cup: Munster waiting for big guns

By David Kelly

With Saturday’s Amlin Cup semi-final clash against Harlequins looming, Munster coach Tony McGahan is playing a waiting game on the fitness of both Tomás O’Leary and captain Paul O’Connell.

Neither of the two were included in a 27-man preliminary squad named yesterday, but neither have they been ruled out of the Thomond Park clash.

As explained by McGahan, the panel is a “reflection of those who are fit at this point in time,” meaning that both players could still come into contention for places.

O’Connell hasn’t played since injuring his ankle ligaments in a Magners League match against Leinster earlier this month, but made a return to full training on Tuesday and came through yesterday’s session unscathed.

His progress will be monitored further between today and tomorrow, but even if he does prove his fitness it’s not yet certain as to whether he will play any part in Saturday’s game.

“Reports a couple of weeks ago were indicating that he would be out of the rest of the season, so it will be a big stretch to get him ready for this week,” said McGahan.

“What we have done today is named a squad that is fully fit after yesterday’s session.

“He took his first part in training last Tuesday, and we’ll wait and see how he goes for the rest of the week.”

O’Leary, who hasn’t played competitively since mid-February, is in a similar boat to O’Connell.

Having spent five weeks recovering from an eye injury, the Cork-born scrumhalf was due to make his Munster comeback in an ‘A’ match against Moseley last Saturday, but pulled out due to a reoccurrence of the back problem which curtailed his Six Nations involvement.

He will be given every opportunity to work his way back into the squad, though McGahan admitted that asking him to start might be demanding too much.

“We’ve done that before, but we have some really good nines who are playing well at the moment,” said the Australian.

“He has been out since the second Six Nations game, and he has also lost a lot of weight due to being inactive because of his back injury.”

There were no other injury concerns as of yesterday evening, with Johne Murphy making a return to the squad after missing last weekend’s victory over the Ospreys due to an eye injury.

Denis Leamy also returns to the mix having been rested for the trip to Swansea, and he will have a major battle on his hands if he is to reclaim his number six jersey from Donnacha Ryan, who was so impressive at the Liberty Stadium.

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