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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019

JVG excited by O'Sullivan's potential after long-awaited Munster debut

The number eight is hoping to make a big impression this season after a serious knee injury.

OF THE THIRTY-TWO players to feature in Munster’s opening pre-season game last Friday night, the performance of Jack O’Sullivan off the bench had most talking at Musgrave Park.

The 20-year-old, who marked his senior debut for the province with an eye-catching try minutes after his half-time arrival, is back to full fitness after a serious knee injury kept him sidelined last season. 

munsters-jack-osullivan O'Sullivan impressed against London Irish. Source: Inpho

Having starred for Ireland U20s during the 2018 Six Nations, O’Sullivan was set to make his breakthrough for Johann van Graan’s side last term but was dealt a cruel injury blow when he sustained ACL damage.

Now in year three of the province’s academy, the number eight wasted little time in making his impact felt against London Irish on Friday night, producing a stunning individual try whilst also being heavily involved throughout an impressive 40-minute cameo.

With another pre-season friendly against Connacht to come this Saturday, O’Sullivan will be keen to force his way into van Graan’s early-season plans ahead of Munster’s campaign opener against Dragons on 28 September.

“When I first came, Jack was one of the first guys that I saw as having something different,” the Munster head coach said at today’s Pro14 launch.

“He had a very good U20 World Cup for Ireland two years ago and then got that ACL injury. He’s a different loose forward than we’ve currently got. He is a classical eight.

“He has very good hands, he’s got good pace and he has really worked on his contact work and physical development. He has a way to go in the game but I thought what he did on Friday was very impressive.

He played what was in front of him and his decision-making at the back of the scrum showed he has true class. He’s certainly one for the future for us.

Van Graan declared himself ‘pretty happy with where we’re at’ as Munster build towards the new campaign, with new senior coach Stephen Larkham adding a ‘fresh voice and fresh outlook’ to the set-up.

With 12 players away with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland at the World Cup, van Graan has been working with a smaller and younger group during pre-season, with the South African keen to give the academy players as many opportunities as possible during this block.

Van Graan will again bring an extended matchday squad to Galway for Saturday’s final friendly against the western province, with back row Paddy Butler again set to be involved as he looks to earn a contract with Munster.

Butler has been training with Munster during the summer after leaving Pau and while the Tipperary native has not yet been offered a contract for the season, van Graan has been impressed by the 28-year-old.

“He is training with us and I thought he has done really well,” van Graan continued.

johann-van-graan Van Graan speaking at the Aviva Stadium today. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“He’s really impressive so we’ll possibly use him this weekend again and then make decisions on him after. Paddy is a fascinating rugby player. A very good lineout forward, a good ball carrier and he’s a quality rugby man. We’ve been really impressed with him.”

Australian Jed Holloway will arrive in Limerick this weekend after joining Munster as World Cup cover, with van Graan bringing the 26-year-old in on a short-term deal to bolster his second row resources.

“We’re very excited to have him in,” the head coach added. “You need depth in your squad and we’re very lucky to have Jean Kleyn, Tadhg [Beirne] and Pete [O'Mahony] at the World Cup, so specifically for lock cover, you need a bit of experience and I thought he had a very good Super Rugby competition and he’s a player that caught my eye. Stephen [Larkham] knows him pretty well. 

“If you look at our European pool, there are big teams we’re coming up against and he has size. Currently, we only have four senior locks so if one gets injured, you’re in a tight spot. Jed will provide depth.”

Meanwhile, Calvin Nash is expected to return to training next week after suffering a hip pointer injury against London Irish but van Graan confirmed Ciaran Parker is facing a period on the sidelines after suffering a ‘pretty serious’ calf injury.

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Ryan Bailey

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