PAUL O’Connell is set to make a sensational return to action in Munster’s starting line-up for Saturday’s crucial Heineken Cup opener with Racing Metro at Stade de France.
O’Connell will pack down alongside Billy Holland, who is named in place of the injured Donncha O’Callaghan (hamstring) for the first time since early May. O’Callaghan sat out yesterday’s training at CIT and is out of the squad.
Second row O’Connell has been out of action since last May when he sustained a knee injury in their 36-8 win over Ulster at the end of last season.
“It’s great for Irish rugby, for the rugby community to see a player of his calibre back playing again,” Rob Penney said.
Elsewhere in the pack, Dave Kilcoyne retains the loosehead prop in the absence of Wian du Preez, who sustained a knee injury against Leinster and Donnacha Ryan is named at blind-side ahead of Dave O’Callaghan.
Speaking of O’Connell’s inclusion, coach Rob Penney felt it prudent to wait until tafter Wednesday’s training session before making a decision about his participation or not.
Penney said: “We’ve always maintained that he’d be back when he felt he was ready. I think it’s great for us.
“It’s great for Irish rugby, for the rugby community to see a player of his calibre back playing again. It was a gradual process. In the interests of the player it had to be.”
The one unforced change in the backline sees Ian Keatley in at full-back instead of Denis Hurley who is named on the bench.
MUNSTER - (v Racing Metro): Ian Keatley; Doug Howlett capt, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha; Billy Holland, Paul O’Connell; Donncha Ryan, Sean Dougall, Peter O’Mahony.
Replacements: Mick Sherry, Marcus Horan, Stephen Archer, Dave O’Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Peter Stringer, Danny Barnes, Denis Hurley.