Craig Casey will start at 9. Craig Watson/INPHO

Munster's injury toll is brutal but they must embrace this shot at Leinster

Graham Rowntree could be without six starters from last weekend’s URC quarter-final win.

EVEN IF MUNSTER had been able to choose from a full deck, it was going to be a tough task travelling to Dublin and trying to beat Leinster this weekend.

If they still manage to do it in this Saturday’s URC semi-final, it will probably get its own chapter in the Munster history book. That tome already includes plenty of against-the-odds material, although a glaring lack of wins over Leinster in recent history.

Last weekend’s quarter-final win over Glasgow brought with it a remarkable, wince-inducing injury toll. It was tough viewing when it came to head injuries, with four Munster players forced off for Head Injury Assessments [HIAs] they didn’t return from.

Scrum-half Conor Murray took a nasty blow to the head in the illegal tackle that saw Glasgow’s Tom Jordan sent off, while centre Malakai Fekitoa, wing Calvin Nash, and lock RG Snyman were the other three who had to undergo HIAs. All four Munster players are now going through the return-to-play protocols and won’t feature against Leinster.

There are still big doubts over captain Peter O’Mahony, who has had a scan on his elbow injury after being replaced just four minutes into the Glasgow game. It’s usually not good news when a player has to go for a scan, but Munster say they’ll know about his availability later in the week.

The update was similar on hooker Diarmuid Barron, who picked up a shoulder injury against the Glaswegians and had to go off after 42 minutes. 

That’s four starters from last weekend who will definitely be missing the Leinster game and another two who are clearly doubtful. It takes the meaning of ‘injury toll’ to a new level. Add to that the fact that the game against Glasgow had a massive ball-in-play time of over 44 minutes, as well as the travel, and it’s clear the quarter-final has left Munster in a tough spot.

So what happens next? 

peter-omahony-receives-medical-attention Peter O'Mahony was injured in Glasgow. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Craig Casey will come in at scrum-half for Murray, with Neil Cronin or Ethan Coughlan in line for promotion to the bench as Paddy Patterson’s season was ended by an ACL rupture on the recent tour of South Africa.

Fekitoa’s absence in midfield could see Jack Crowley shift from number 10 to 12, where he has already started five games this season. Crowley has been at out-half for the past four games but could move to make way in the starting side for Ben Healy. That would mean Joey Carbery presumably coming back into the matchday 23, though he’d love a return to the starting XV of course.

But Munster may be loath to move Crowley back out of the number 10 shirt, particularly after he had a strong game at out-half in Glasgow. If he’s to be Munster’s main man at 10 long-term, that’s where Crowley needs to play. In that case, the highly experienced Rory Scannell could come into the side at inside centre in place of Fekitoa.

It’s far from ideal that wings Keith Earls, Andrew Conway, and Liam Coombes are injured at the moment, so there’s an interesting decision to be made out wide with Nash also out of the frame now. 

Simon Zebo has been totally out of the selection picture recently but has played in plenty of big games in the past, while Rowntree and co. are fans of 20-year-old academy man Pa Campbell, who has started games on the wing and at fullback this season. It would be exciting to see Campbell unleashed in a semi-final.

The decision in the second row appears straightforward after Fineen Wycherley made a telling impact off the bench against Glasgow. He should start the Leinster clash, with the highly-rated 20-year-old Edwin Edgobo in contention for a place on the bench. The explosive Thomas Ahern is also in contention.

It is a huge shame that Snyman is sidelined once again. Having overcome his long-term knee issues, this was his second head injury in the space of a month. The South African simply has no luck.

If Barron doesn’t make it, Ireland international Niall Scannell is set to start and Scott Buckley looks likely to provide hooker cover among the replacements.

john-hodnett-reacts-during-the-game John Hodnett could come into the back row if O'Mahony is ruled out. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

And if O’Mahony is ruled out in the end, John Hodnett or Alex Kendellen will almost certainly be promoted from the bench. Hodnett did a fine job in replacing O’Mahony early on last weekend so he could be the front-runner for the number seven shirt. If Munster stay with a 6/2 bench split, Jack O’Donoghue would be raring to come back into the squad.

It’s all a big test of Munster’s squad and certainly adds to Leinster’s status as strong favourites for this tie at the Aviva Stadium, where there will be a limited capacity of 29,000.

Not that Graham Rowntree and his players will be viewing this game as anything other than a big opportunity. His ambition must be that Munster come into these games as favourites in the future, regardless of injuries and availabilities. Irish rugby would be so much better for this rivalry really being restored.

Let’s not forget that Leinster will almost certainly rest all of their frontliners against Munster, a week before the Champions Cup final against La Rochelle. A fifth European star is Leinster’s priority. Their squad depth is the envy of nearly every other club, but Munster must see this as a chance even with their own injury travails.

Munster’s supporters will travel as strongly as always and this is a no-pressure shot at the end of a season that has seen Rowntree and his new coaching staff rip up what was there before, installing a new playing philosophy that their players have embraced.

That’s the main thing that makes this latest Leinster v Munster instalment compelling – the sense that Munster will actually go out and fire some shots, trying to win the game rather than just attempting to limit the possibility of Leinster cutting loose. The big frustration for fans in recent years was the feeling that Munster simply didn’t play.

Surely this time, Munster will have a go.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel