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Van Graan asks for patience as Munster regroup for 'knockout' clash with Racing

With a new system to bed in, Johann van Graan laments that he has not been able to maintain a consistent starting XV.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THERAPY ALWAYS HELPS. And Johann van Graan looked like a man who had lifted a weight from his shoulders after he listed off the extent of the challenges currently facing his side.

It was post-match on Friday and Munster had just slumped to a dismal 38-17 loss away to Ulster, Van Graan mentioned with optimism that he would have bodies back in the mix to build towards next Sunday’s crucial Champions Cup clash away to Racing 92.

Asked who was on top of the list of possible returns, he reflexively went through a roll-call of men caught in the revolving door. The doubts, six who were ‘outs’, the guts of the dozen World Cup attendees and men such as Stephen Archer who had just taken a long overdue week out of the firing line having playing in all previous 13 of Munster’s fixtures this season.

Perhaps more important than the numbers for Munster this term is the frequency at which key men have been available. All four provinces are dealing with increased player management scrutiny with the fixture list squeezed tightly post-World Cup, but Van Graan has 12 players in that category. Fewer than Leinster, but the southern province have also been trying to install new pillars in their gameplan in Steven Larkham’s first few months in Limerick.

“We have not, this season, been afforded the opportunity to play the same team two weeks in a row,” lamented Van Graan before wistfully looking back to last season when a broadly similar side built up a head of steam from December through to mid-January.

“We want to win every single game but literally we haven’t had any continuity. Ulster only had two players who had to go on a break and you can see it in their play.

“They have a lot of continuity in selection and they are pretty injury free bar Marcell (Coetzee).”

niall-scannell Niall Scannell among his team-mates post-match. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Joey Carbery in some ways personifies the state of affairs at Munster. His ankle issue pre and during the tournament in Japan kept him out of a red jersey until last weekend. On his welcome return he is required to take on a considerable workload with Tyler Bleyendaal and JJ Hanrahan among the injured.

Counting the primary playmaker as one of the late adapters to Larkham’s structures is certainly not what you would call ideal.

“If you look at it from a pre-season point of view,” says Van Graan of Carbery, “he is only in week two with us now.

“He literally trained with us on a Thursday (before Christmas), went to the national camp, trained there, had one training session with us and played a few minutes against Leinster, which was a Friday night game.

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“We trained on a Monday and Tuesday and we played again so he has literally had four training sessions — you know from a senior out-half point of view, Tyler and JJ are injured so we just had to get through it tonight.”

Van Graan added:

“From my point of view the only thing I will say is we need more time.

johann-van-graan Van Graan on the field ahead of Friday's inter-pro. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We have had 12 players away at the World Cup. We had a coach coming in at the back end of pre-season finishing up with Australian Rugby. We went on a very good run, I think our best performance of the season was against Cardiff away and then on that Monday we had 12 players coming back from a World Cup.

“We played Ulster at Thomond Park, a tough game, then straight into Europe. Those players had to have a week’s rest and then two more games and we haven’t seen some of them again.

“Like I said, I will take (responsibility for) the performance but we just need more time.”

As far as the Pro14 goes, they have plenty of time to force their way back to the top of Conference B and make a run at the play-offs.

In Europe, not so much. A teak tough Champions Cup pool that has already brought a home draw against Racing and an away loss to Saracens leaves them facing a daunting vertical climb to progress into the quarter-finals. Time is a luxury Munster won’t have on the fast track of Paris’ La Defense Arena.

“In Europe it’s definitely season-defining. We’re not even halfway through the Pro14, so it’s a different competition.

“The main thing is we’ve basically got a knock-out game against Racing in Paris.”

Backed into a corner, teeth gritted. Sounds like the challenge Munster forge reputations with.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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