Munster tempt back Burke to bolster European options

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The Independent Online

Precious little distracts the attention of Munster when it comes to Heineken Cup business, as Lawrence Dallaglio and his Wasps team are likely to discover in front of a sell-out 48,000 audience at Lansdowne Road in Dublin on Sunday afternoon. Yet the Irish province, positively aching for a first European title after umpteen near misses in recent seasons, have at least half an eye on the medium term, hence their signing of Paul Burke, the former international outside-half, from Harlequins.

Burke, capped 10 times by Ireland but some way behind Ronan O'Gara and David Humphreys in the current pecking order, has agreed a two-year deal with the province, and will understudy O'Gara from September. He will live in Limerick - his wife Hilary hails from the town - and will therefore be handy for regular visits to Thomond Park, where Munster lose about as often as Rotherham win matches in the English Premiership.

"Few sides could have tempted me away from Harlequins, but Munster have become one of the truly great teams in Europe," Burke said yesterday. His departure will hurt Quins, whom he joined from Cardiff four seasons ago after spells with Cork Constitution and Bristol. He also enjoyed a previous run around the block with Munster, and if he emulates his deeds in south-west London - 90 front-line appearances, 1,000-plus points - they will never allow him to leave Limerick again.

Quins have another Irish stand-off in the shape of Andy Dunne, who moved to the Stoop Memorial Ground from Leinster last summer. Dunne has more of a future than a past - he is only 24, while Burke is the wrong side of 30 - but he will be expected to make sense of the present extremely quickly if the Londoners are serious about establishing a place at the top end of the English game. Burke repeatedly won important games for Quins with his dead-eye marksmanship, and is likely to be missed.

Toulouse, marginal favourites to retain their Heineken Cup title, will miss Frédéric Michalak, their blossoming genius of an outside-half, when they take on Thomas Lièvremont's Biarritz side in the first of this weekend's semi-finals. Michalak missed the quarter-final win over Edinburgh with an ankle injury, and his recovery is not complete.

"Frédéric is coming back to fitness, but only slowly," said the Toulouse coach, Guy Noves. "My head tells me he will not be in our 22 for this game. If he says he is match-fit, he will have to prove it to me." As Toulouse are also without Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, the scrum-half who partnered Michalak in the first three games of France's Grand Slam campaign, their Basque opponents are beginning to smell blood.

One of England's qualifiers for next season's tournament, Bath, have secured the services of their captain, the England lock Danny Grewcock, for another two years.

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