Looks like Munster will start the season without their fearless leader
Munster look set to begin the Rob Penney-era without fearless leader Paul O’Connell, who isn’t quite ready to return from a knee injury just yet.
O’Connell was a particularly noticeable absentee from Ireland’s ultimately ill-fated tour of New Zealand in the summer, but it had been hoped that he would be involved in one or both Munster’s pre-season clashes with Bristol or London Irish this month with a view to being fit for the first game in the Rabo12 league.
New Munster coach Penney has instead revealed that O’Connell won’t feature in either of those, nor is he likely to play in the season opener against Edinburgh in Murrayfield on September 1.
"It just depends on how he is over the next 10 days or so, but it's highly unlikely that he'll be available for the first round," Penney is quoted as saying in the Irish Independent.
"We want to be able to unleash him when he's 100pc. He's at the stage in his career that he needs consistent rugby and when he gets that, he's one of the best locks in the world."
O’Connell hasn’t had the best of luck on the injury front in recent years, but his woes are nothing compared to those of Felix Jones. Having returned from an ankle injury suffered on the eve of the World Cup last season, Jones sustained a serious shoulder injury soon into his comeback and, according to Penney, won’t be appearing in a Munster jersey anytime in the near future.
"Felix is not due back until Christmas-ish, late November,” Penney added.
“He is charging around like a spring chicken, which is a great sign. But we have to be cognisant of the fact that he has had some serious injuries in the past."
Despite the absence of O’Connell and Jones, Penney has been able to name a decent looking side for the visit of Bristol to Musgrave Park this weekend, with new signings Casey Laulala and James Downey forming the centre partnership in a side that will be looking to make up for the humbling loss to La Rochelle last weekend.
Kick-off at Musgrave Park is on Friday at 7pm.
Munster team to play Bristol: D Hurley; D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, L O'Dea; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer; B Holland, D Foley; T O'Donnell, S Dougall, P Butler.