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Grobler set for Thomond Park return as important part of Gloucester pack

Munster boss Johann van Graan feels there is more to Gloucester than their South African influence.

ALREADY A POPULAR figure at Gloucester and an important part of their team, Gerbrandt Grobler is likely to receive a warm reception on his return to Thomond Park on Saturday.

The athletic South African lock was well-liked by Munster fans during his season-long stay in Limerick, all the more so after his signing was criticised and the debate around his previous two-year ban from rugby kicked off in earnest in January.

Gerbrandt Grobler leaves the field Grobler was popular with Munster fans. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Since leaving for Gloucester during the summer, the man they call ‘GG’ has told the Guardian that he had a three-year contract extension on the table with Munster but that it was “shot down very quickly after the media fiasco.”

He has rapidly set about making himself a crucial part of Johan Ackermann’s pack in Gloucester, starting four Premiership games and last weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup win over Castres.

The 26-year-old has been calling Gloucester’s lineouts and showing his dynamism around the pitch, underlining that he will be among the threats to Munster this weekend in round two of the European competition.

“I think at the end of the campaign he did really well,” said Munster head coach Johann van Graan of Grobler’s season with Munster.

“I thought he played really well against Ulster in that home game, came off the bench a few times and made a big difference, like in that semi-final against Leinster.

“He’s a quality player with his ability around the lineout, you’ve just got to watch the way he catches a kick-off, he’s brilliant at that, and his offloading ability. He’s a quality rugby player and I think that’s why Gloucester bought him.”

Grobler is, of course, intimately familiar with Munster’s lineout calls and system, having worked hard in that area over the course of last season.

Ulster v Gloucester Rugby - Pre-Season Friendly - Kingspan Stadium Grobler has settled in well at Gloucester. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

The imposing lock will, therefore, pose an educated threat to Munster’s throw in Limerick this weekend.

“It’s the same as every week,” said van Graan. “You’ve got to be conscious that GG will know our lineout calls but it’s the same as when we played against Racing; there are players [Donnacha Ryan] that have been here before and moved on.

“I think it will all be about Gloucester for them. If you worry too much about the opposition, you might make mistakes of your own.”

Grobler is not the only link between the clubs, with Munster defence coach JP Ferreira having worked alongside Ackermann at the Lions in South Africa for five years.

Van Graan has coached hooker Franco Marais and flanker Jaco Kriel, who is currently injured, but he underlines that “there’s more to Gloucester than just the South African influence.”

“They’re well-drilled if you just look at their game in the last year, they’ve done very well,” continued van Graan. “They were very unlucky not to win the Challenge Cup last year, they lost it right at the end and they’re sitting in the top four in the Premiership.

“We’re under no illusions about what awaits us on Saturday. They have the second highest ball-in-play time after Exeter in the Premiership, they like to hold onto the ball as well. They do it in a different way to Exeter but this will be a real test.”

Looking at his own team and the options available to him, van Graan admitted that Keith Earls is “a worry” after his hamstring strain during the warm-up before last weekend’s draw with Exeter.

Johann van Graan and Peter O'Mahony after the game Van Graan with Munster captain Peter O'Mahony. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

John Ryan is rated as “50/50″ after a recurrence of an ankle injury during the second-half, while centre Sammy Arnold needs further specialist opinion after a throat injury.

Conor Murray has been ruled out again, while Kiwi scrum-half Alby Mathewson is still struggling to return from a knee injury and van Graan says “it’s pretty difficult to say at this stage” whether he will be fit to play.

“If he doesn’t, I thought Duncan [Williams] was exceptional over the weekend and Neil Cronin only had a few minutes but I’m so glad to have him back a week ahead of schedule,” said van Graan.

Tyler Bleyendaal came through a 30-minute run-out for Munster A on Friday unscathed, his first appearance since February due to a neck injury.

“Tyler will find his way back on to the game,” said van Graan. “It’s great that he came through 30 minutes. Now it’s about getting a lot of contact and training his goal-kicking and getting back into the swing of things.”

Ireland centre Chris Farrell remains among the long-term absentees, but van Graan is pleased with his progress in rehab after ACL injury.

“Chris Farrell is running very well,” said van Graan. “I don’t foresee him being back over the next two or three weeks.

“We might have an opportunity over November but then there are the Test matches as well. I don’t want to speculate on him but as soon as I know I’ll give you an update.”

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Murray Kinsella

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