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    O’Connell says No !


    O'Connell pours cold water on fairytale Cup comeback</font>
    <table align="right" border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="0" width="122"><t><tr>
    <td>

    Donncha
    O'Callaghan, Trevor Halstead, Paul O'Connell and Peter Stringer with
    Tim O'Mahony, Chairman, Toyota Ireland at yesterday's Munster
    sponsorship announcement </font></td>
    </tr>

    </t></table>


    Tuesday March 27th 2007</font>




    AS one Irish galactico, Paul O'Connell, yesterday fobbed off feverish
    rumours of a fairytale Heineken Cup comeback from injury, the prospects
    of another, Brian O'Driscoll, performing a Lazarus-like revival has
    still not been definitively ruled out. </font>



    Both talismanic Irish figures had been expected to be out of contention
    for their respective province's quarter-final away battles this
    weekend. </font>



    But Irish and Leinster captain O'Driscoll is still clinging to a faint
    prospect that his hamstring setback - sustained against Italy in
    Ireland's final Six Nations encounter - may improve for him to make a
    dramatic return away to Wasps on Saturday. </font>



    Despite the increased speculation surrounding O'Driscoll, it still
    remains a longshot that he will line out for Leinster as the Irish camp
    will be eager that their captain - whose hamstring woes ruled him out
    of the Croke Park clash against France - avoids any risk that may
    aggravate the injury. </font>



    O'Connell was also the subject of 'comeback' whispers, but he firmly
    rebuffed any chances of him taking his place in the Munster pack for
    the trip to Llanelli this Friday. </font>



    "I haven't heard those rumours but they're rubbish to be honest with
    you," said O'Connell, whose presence, delicately poised fractured thumb
    and all, at Munster's press day was merely designed to add luster to
    his side's extension of the sponsorship with Toyota. </font>



    "I had a check-up last week and the recovery seems to be going
    according to plan." O'Connell and reliable full-back Shaun Payne are
    Munster's only definite absentees - Barry Murphy is a slight doubt -
    ahead of Friday's tricky encounter against Llanelli, who were unbeaten
    in a tigerish pool campaign which included Ulster, Toulouse and London
    Irish. </font>


    Preparation </font>


    But
    given the large chunk of the post-Christmas campaign has been cleaved
    by international affairs - Munster have played just three times since
    their Thomond Park defeat to Leicester in January - coach Declan
    Kidney's biggest task will be to squeeze virtually three months of
    preparation into just three training sessions. </font>


    Although
    Leinster obviated such ring-rustiness to varying degrees by playing a
    full-strength side against Connacht last weekend, Kidney demurred when
    presented with a similar gambit against Ulster last weekend. </font>



    "

    #2

    Heineken hiatus plays into Leinster and Munster's grateful hands</font>
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    <td>

    Assistant
    coach Jim Williams offers some advice to flanker Denis Leamy during
    Munster's training session at Musgrave Park yesterday. ,6 BRENDAN
    MORAN/SPORTSFILE
    </font></td>
    </tr>

    </t></table>


    Tuesday March 27th 2007</font>




    IT takes little in the way of rocket science to acknowledge the
    structure of the professional season in this part of the world to be
    flawed . . . seriously flawed.


    By contrast in the Southern Hemisphere, they've got it just about right.


    Super 14 (their Magners League) leads into May/June friendly
    internationals (their autumn series equivalent) followed by Tri Nations
    (their Six Nations) and culminating in domestic club and
    provincial/state competitions in the three major rugby playing
    countries.


    Right from the off in February, there is a sense of chronological structure to what they are about.


    Here, though we might cite the Champions League as soccer's
    fractured equivalent, the rugby season drifts from Magners League
    (September) to Heineken Cup (October) to autumn Tests (November) back
    to Heineken Cup and Magners League (December and January).


    Come February and March and it's Six Nations (with Magners League
    mixed in) leaving April and May for the Heineken Cup knock-out stages
    plus the Magners League finale with the reciprocal tour arrangement to
    the Southern Hemisphere following on from that.


    Toss in mid season 'A' internationals plus end-of-season Churchill
    Cup and yes I think it fair to say, by comparison that we in this part
    of the world are all over the shop.


    Indeed with the drama of the last seven weeks how many have instant
    recall to the final weekend of Heineken Cup qualifiers back in January?



    Confidence


    Mind you given events in Thomond when Leicester won and Kingsholm where Gloucester beat Leinster maybe it's better that way.


    The manner in which both English Premiership sides took Munster and
    Leinster apart was hugely disconcerting and did little for Irish
    confidence going into Cardiff at that time.


    So in a sense with time the great healer - or so we hope - perhaps
    the fractured nature of European rugby's premier event is working in
    our favour. Certainly Llanelli and Wasps were on a Heineken gallop when
    the Six Nations segment called an untimely halt.


    That said with just a fortnight and one Magners League match in
    which to prepare, the pressure is on Declan Kidney and Michael Cheika
    particularly in the absence of respective talismen Paul O'Connell and
    Brian O'Driscoll.


    Injury comes with the territory but it is the reigning champions hardest hit in that regard.


    To that end the weekend performances, particularly the manner of
    the wins over Ulster and Connacht respectively, will have done much for
    morale in the run in to this make-or-break segment of the provincial
    season.


    At Ravenhill on Friday night we witnessed one of the most amazing
    games of this or any other season. Seldom have two teams in the one
    match produced such extremes of performance on either side of the
    interval.


    Quite simply under-strength Munster were wretched in the first half
    with Ulster - particularly behind the scrum - on fire in that period.


    Witness Jerry Flannery's missed tackle down the tramlines on Is

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