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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019

'It's not an excuse for us' - Munster face up to serious injury issues

Toulon will arrive in Limerick on the back of a 49-0 hammering of Clermont.

AS TOULON UNDERLINED their ability in yesterday’s 49-0 win over a poor Clermont side in the Top 14, Munster were counting the cost of their own impressive Pro14 victory against the Scarlets.

Ahead of Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final between the sides at Thomond Park, Johann van Graan’s men have been worryingly depleted.

Unlucky flanker Tommy O’Donnell will visit a specialist tomorrow to ascertain the severity of the arm injury he sustained against the Scarlets, but he will definitely be missing against Toulon and could be set for a lengthy period out of the game.

Tommy O'Donnell leaves the field with an injury Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

That injury accentuates the loss of openside Chris Cloete, and the fact that O’Donnell had only recently returned from injury makes it all the harder to accept.

“I thought he played a really good game, some of his ball carrying, some of his defence, some of his work rate off the ball,” said van Graan in Limerick today.

“He’s very disappointed because it’s a huge game coming up but he’s a champion of a man, a fantastic Munster player, a Munster man and he always works hard. The team always comes first for him and he had a big opportunity, but that’s gone now.”

Conor Oliver is available for Munster at openside this weekend, although van Graan may reshuffle one of the returning CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony in the back row and accommodate Robin Copeland or Jack O’Donoghue.

Inside centre Rory Scannell suffered a head injury against the Scarlets but has begun his return-to-play protocols and if he comes through them without any setbacks, he will be available to face Toulon.

Munster certainly need him in midfield, where they are already missing Jaco Taute and Ireland international Chris Farrell, with Scannell set to start alongside 21-year-old Sammy Arnold.

Munster’s backline has also suffered the loss of wing Keith Earls to a knee injury, out-half Tyler Bleyendaal to a neck issue, and replacement scrum-half Duncan Williams after he suffered season-ending facial injuries in training.

Adding to those players missing are the doubts surrounding the involvement of Simon Zebo [hamstring] and Andrew Conway [knee] against Toulon.

Johann van Graan with Andrew Conway Conway has been struggling with a knee injury. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Neither player will train fully with Munster today and their head coach was not too optimistic about their potential recoveries.

“Still a lot of doubt regarding [Zebo],” said van Graan. “He will return to the training field this week but it’s still touch-and-go whether he will play. We will take it day by day and finalise the team as the week goes on.

“Andrew is also 50-50. He’ll return to training later in the week. Again, he’s a quality player but he hasn’t played in a few weeks.

“He’s been working so hard with the physio guys and rehab guys, he’s sat into all the meetings over the last two or three weeks. He’s 100% on par with the rugby but we have to get him out on the field and get the ball in his hands.

“We have so many injuries in the backs so we will give them every opportunity to come back.”

Indeed, were Zebo and Conway not to recover, it would leave Munster a little bare in the backs, although van Graan did go on to insist that others are raring to step up.

“Any injury at this stage is a massive blow,” said van Graan, “but we had our review and preview this morning. It’s not an excuse for us, we’re a squad, we like challenges.

“It’s not something that we can change or control but for a guy like Calvin Nash, he did outstandingly well [against Scarlets] and Darren Sweetnam is ready to go. I thought Alex Wootton did well.

Alex Wootton scores a try despite the efforts from Tom Varndell Wootton scored against the Scarlets. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“For the big games, you want your experienced guys but it’s also an opportunity for a guy who hasn’t played in those big games to say ‘Pick me, I want the ball and I want to contribute to this team.’”

There’s little doubt, however, that the injury worries make it a far more difficult task for Munster this weekend against Toulon.

“Any side that beats Clermont 49-0 are quality,” said van Graan. “Just look at the tries they scored, some of the broken-field attack, their scrum, their maul – some scrums they just went right through the opposition.

“I’ve coached some of their players and I’ve coached against quite a lot of them on the international stage. They have star players and they put together a fantastic performance on Sunday. We will have to be at our very best to get a result on Saturday.”

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Murray Kinsella

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