MUNSTER COACH ROB PENNEY has the distinct feeling of taking one step forward only having to take another two back.
Penney was heartened by Paul O’Connell taking a full part in team training at C.IT, Bishopstown today but a tough Six Nations campaign for the international team has left its mark.
Keith Earls’ dislocated shoulder, picked up against Italy, and minor knocks for Conor Murray and Donnacha Ryan are the latest stumbling blocks in a season in which their fortunes have veered wildly.
Speaking about Earls, Penney said, “He’s got a six to eight weeker in terms of his shoulder and we’ll see what happens after that as it unfolds.”
Winger Simon Zebo, who broke a bone in his foot in Ireland’s home loss to England, was also in Cork today but his training session was modified and light.
“He’s making progress,” Penney said as the focus turned to the team’s 7 April Heineken Cup clash with Harlequins. The coach added:
There’s a big, grey area coming up between the week before the quarter-final and the week after. We’ve got some specialist visits to have and all sorts. We’re optimistic but not overly optimistic.
“We’ll just see. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be available for that game.”
Zebo is making progress but no fized return date has been set. (©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)
The sight of O’Connell charging headlong into tackle bags, following his return to ‘A’ team action last week, has lifted provincial spirits.
“It’s great to see him out there; fantastic,” Penney proclaimed. “He’s such an influence for any team he has been in. It’s great to have him in the frame.”
A run of two defeats and a home draw against champions Ospreys has dented Munster’s hopes of finishing in the league’s top four.
The message to the team, explained Penney, has been to improve on the areas of the game they are not doing well in and build on the areas they are growing in.
They play Connacht at Musgrave Park on Saturday and Penney is wary of a team that are looking to record their fourth league win in succession.
He said, “They’re a team that has really, really improved. Not only over the course of this season but over the last two or three years.” He added:
They’re a Heineken Cup-level side now, as they have proved this year against Biarritz and Harlequins.
“They’re formidable but we have them at home here [in Cork] and we’ll see what happens.”
Munster, meanwhile, confirmed that scrum-half Peter Stringer will remain at Aviva Premiership club Bath for the remainder of the season.