MUNSTER COACH ROB PENNEY may have to plan for the daunting away tie against Clermont without four of his senior players.
The New Zealander confirmed to TheScore.ie today that club captain Doug Howlett and lock Donncha O’Callaghan were definitely out of the Heineken Cup semi-final in Montpelier on Saturday.
He said, “[Doug] won’t be part of this event. Donncha unfortunately has not recovered from the knee injury he picked up against Leinster. It’s really sad for him as well.
“Peter O’Mahony has some ongoing foot complaints. We’ll find out later in the week how that is going to pan out. James Downey is still recovering from a hand issue, which we’ll find out all about later in the week.
Keith Earls is making progress but, once again, we won’t know about his [selection] chances until later in the week.”
Penney has rated the chances of O’Mahony, the team’s stand-out flanker in Europe this season, as 60/40 to feature against Julien Bonnaire and his Clermont teammates. In a stark comparison to his team’s injury concerns, the Kiwi listed off the names of four former All Blacks [including Benson Stanley and Kevin Senio] that are plying their trade in the French side’s reserves this season.
“They have Sitiveni Sivivatu on one wing and Napolioni Nalaga on the other and that’s before I even get started on their forward threat,” he said. “It’s a bit frightening really. They’ve just got exceptional talent everywhere.”
O’Callaghan and Howlett celebrate success in 2008. (©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)
Penney described the quarter-final win over Harlequins at The Stoop, earlier this month, as one of the greatest coaching achievements in his career.
“When the players are backed into the corner and given the underdog status, you really hope they step up and come out fighting,” he added. “They actually won it convincingly in the end, which was massively pleasing for them. The other [memorable] element was the amount of supporters that went over there, infiltrating the Harlequins environment and making it their own.”
Perhaps with a view to avoiding the placement of the tag ‘underdog’ on their Irish visitors, Bonnaire said, “I don’t see us as being big favourites for this game – Munster also have a pretty good side – and in these kind of knock-out games it’s always 50/50.”
- Reporting by Aoife Danagher. Follow her on Twitter here.