Munster return but must do without Irish stars

MUNSTER must plan without up to a dozen players for Saturday’s crucial RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Edinburgh at Musgrave Park, through a mixture of international commitments and injuries.

MUNSTER must plan without up to a dozen players for Saturday’s crucial RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Edinburgh at Musgrave Park, through a mixture of international commitments and injuries.

Six members of the squad are involved with the Ireland Six Nations squad preparing for Sunday’s crucial clash with England at the Aviva Stadium.

In addition, Doug Howlett, James Downey, Stephen Archer and Felix Jones are ruled out through injury, while centre Casey Laulala has returned to New Zealand to attend his brother’s wedding.

With three centres, Downey, Laulala and Keith Earls unavailable, coach Penney looks set to include either JJ Hanrahan or Ian Keatley in the midfield to face Edinburgh this Saturday (7.45 pm).

Hanrahan or Keatley will feature at out-half with Ronan O’Gara set to be on international duty.

With Conor Murray on international duty with Ireland and Peter Stringer on a loan deal at Bath at present, Duncan Williams is set to start at scrum-half, with UL-Bohs’ clubman Cathal Sheridan as back-up on the bench.

Head coach Rob Penney is relishing the challenge of playing key PRO12 fixtures, minus several first choice players.

“I find this really stimulating because there’s a young, hungry group desperate to do well,” Penney said.

“They want some longevity in the jersey and push for higher honours. There’s genuine opportunity over this four-week bloc for us personally, individually and as a group.

“It was the right thing to allow him (Peter Stringer) to go and get some footy elsewhere.

“He didn’t want to be on the bench so it was a compromise to meet his needs. He’s been such a great player for such a long time, he deserves to be able to do what he wants.

“We need to allow him to have some stability and can’t be asking clubs to release him on a whim although he will be available to us in the Heineken Cup if required.”

Munster have slipped to sixth in the PRO12 table on the back of their hugely disappointing home defeat to Cardiff at the start of last month. Edinburgh have lost their last seven games in all competitions and have won one of last 14 matches against Irish opposition.

Coach Penney was fulsome in his praise of Simon Zebo’s display for Ireland in Saturday’s Six Nations win over Wales in Cardiff.

Zebo’s football skills were to the fore when he flicked the ball up with his foot in the lead-up to their second try.

Penney said: “It’s great to see him (Zebo) embrace it and enjoy it for what it is.

“Those kinds of things don’t come about by accident. You see him at training, he’s always flicking balls around with his feet, he’s got great skills and has the confidence to use them which is wonderful.”