Munster talisman Paul O’Connell is on track to make his big return in the RaboDirect PRO12 at Ravenhill in 15 days’ time having been out of action since May with a serious knee injury.
The 32-year-old’s last action was against Ulster in the final round of RaboDirect PRO12 regular season, when he sustained the injury that would reduce him to a spectator as his side crashed out 45-10 the Ospreys in the semi-finals the following week.
Despite handing over the club captaincy to Doug Howlett, O’Connell will be looking to lead from the front against Ulster although new team manager Niall O’Donovan is keen to ensure he is not the only international given time to ease back into a domestic season that opens against Edinburgh on Saturday night.
The former Ireland forwards coach knows first-hand the importance of guaranteeing Test players get the proper rest periods – and after impressing in green this summer, forwards Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony will be given an extra week to return to full match-fitness
"It is in all our best interests to look after the players and make sure they are able to play the vital games we want them to play," O'Donovan told the Irish Examiner.
"You'd love to be able to play Paul O'Connell week-in week-out but you can't.
“You have to get a guy who is gone into his early 30s now and mind him, and it is the same with the younger guys coming through, like Peter O'Mahony, and make sure they are getting the proper pre-season.
“You have to make sure they are ready to go into battle when the time comes.
"We work closely with the Irish management on when we can slot guys in and when we take them out.
“They have to have their time off, otherwise they are a spent force."