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Ospreys outing is a chance for van Graan to blood Munster's promising young guns

The likes of Jack O’Sullivan and Shane Daly have impressed when given opportunities.
Jan 13th 2020, 7:39 PM 11,888 23

LEINSTER’S WIN OVER Bath at the RDS back in January 2016 is now seen as something of a turning point for the province.

Leo Cullen knew his side were already out of Europe at the pool stage and, despite hesitancy and doubts from some people around him, he opted to pick a relatively youthful team to take on the English visitors.

craig-casey-arrives Munster youngsters like Craig Casey would relish a chance to drop the tackle bags and start a European game. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

With his more experienced players having failed to get Leinster into the quarter-finals, Cullen was of the mind that backing a batch of hungry, athletic, and ambitious youngsters was hardly all that risky. 

Garry Ringrose, Luke McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Peter Dooley, James Tracy, and Ross Molony were all handed their European debuts and collectively excelled in a 25-11 victory, lifting the mood around the province, who were heading for much better days.

Munster have a similar opportunity to turn the page on Sunday as the Ospreys visit Thomond Park for their final Pool 4 fixture. Johann van Graan’s side are not mathematically out of the Champions Cup quarter-final race yet and may need a bonus-point win to ensure they take advantage of a highly unlikely set of results elsewhere, but making a few changes to their starting XV probably wouldn’t affect that prospect.

The Ospreys are in poor form and Munster should be able to put them away on home soil even if they give a handful of young players an opportunity. Similarly to how Cullen viewed it, there is so much to be gained from having a degree of faith in youth.

Van Graan stated his pleasure at handing scrum-half Craig Casey and outside back Shane Daly their European debuts yesterday in Paris as Racing 92 ran out 39-22 winners but that talented pair barely had time to jog onto the pitch before the final whistle went.

How about backing their ability in the starting team? Munster don’t need to rip up the entire script in the wake of defeat to Racing – indeed, many of their senior players had good games in Paris – but this is an opportunity for van Graan to shift the development of several young men up a few gears.

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shane-daly Shane Daly spent time with the Ireland 7s. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Number eight Jack O’Sullivan is a major prospect who has shown his quality in four Pro14 appearances so far this season, having previously shone at Ireland U20 level before suffering a serious knee injury.

A cousin of Rory and Niall Scannell’s, O’Sullivan would relish an opportunity in Europe. He’s 21 so he’s not exactly a kid – let him show what he can offer.

Daly, who can play at fullback or in midfield, is already 23-years-old. He spent a lengthy period with the Ireland Sevens squad, admittedly, but he needs exposure urgently and his performances in nine Pro14 starts in the current campaign have been strong.

Casey is 20 and very much seen as the future for Munster at scrum-half, with the Shannon man set to move onto a full senior contract next season. Let him taste the excitement of a European outing at Thomond Park as his development continues. A fiery and demanding leader, Casey is more than capable of directing Munster this weekend.

Out-half Ben Healy was his Ireland U20 team-mate last season but has endured a frustrating time recently. Even with injuries to Munster’s senior out-halves, the academy man hasn’t had chances on the pitch, with van Graan having often opted for a 6/2 bench split.

Van Graan has spoken about Healy learning by shadowing the matchday squad but there is no better way to improve than by actually playing. Healy will surely be part of the 23 this weekend.

Munster have long spoken about their excitement around lock Fineen Wycherley’s prospects of establishing himself as a frontline player for the province. At 22, he would benefit from his first European start this weekend.

jack-osullivan-is-tackled-by-conor-obrien Jack O'Sullivan has impressed in fleeting glimpses. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

There are other prospects in the Munster ranks including Gavin Coombes, Keynan Knox, and Diarmuid Barron – who are all in the province’s Champions Cup squad too.

Munster, like every club, will have detailed plans for when and how these young men are exposed to higher levels of rugby, the idea being not to rush anything. But rugby is also about playing and there is potential in the latest crop of Munster youth – let’s see them given a chance to begin properly fulfilling it.

Obviously, the presence of senior players around the younger guns this weekend would be essential and picking a completely changed team full of academy and development players would be foolish, but van Graan and Munster could kick-start something with a couple of forward-thinking selections this weekend.

If Munster were to finish their Champions Cup campaign with a convincing home win featuring several promising homegrown players, the province’s supporters would also leave Thomond Park in a much happier state of mind.

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Murray Kinsella

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