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Craig Casey and Gavin Coombes have been in good form for Munster.
Craig Casey and Gavin Coombes have been in good form for Munster.
Image: INPHO

Form of exciting young guns makes for lengthy Munster selection meetings

The likes of Craig Casey, Ben Healy, and Gavin Coombes have been putting their hands up.
Dec 10th 2020, 6:00 AM 10,156 17

BEN HEALY OR JJ Hanrahan at out-half?

Craig Casey or Conor Murray in the number nine shirt?

Retain Gavin Coombes in the back row or opt for the greater experience of CJ Stander and Jack O’Donoghue alongside captain Peter O’Mahony?

These are some of the questions Munster will have been pondering in recent days, with the form of the young guns meaning there are genuine debates to be had.

“We’ve certainly had some of our longer selection meetings over the last few days because of the form of the young guys and particularly the young forwards,” confirmed assistant coach Graham Rowntree ahead of Sunday’s Champions Cup clash with Harlequins.

“I’m not going to name-drop them all because it’s not fair, so many of them have stepped up.

“I’ve been impressed with them and they’ve got on with things. They’ve done everything that we’ve asked them to do, they’re gaining experience, and they’re gaining confidence, but this is a big step. We wouldn’t pick them if we didn’t feel they were ready.”

Coombes has been in particularly strong form for Munster this season, delivering very physical performances from the number eight shirt.

The 22-year-old has yet to play for Munster in the Champions Cup but Sunday’s clash with Quins should see that change.

“Overrated player, sick of hearing about him,” joked Rowntree when asked about the Skibberreen man.

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“No, he’s great. Again, like a lot of the youngsters, he’s doing everything we’re asking him to do and you can see in his performances he’s gaining confidence in his skills, and he works hard on his game. He’s still got a bit to go in terms of his fitness. He knows that.

“He’s developing, but like a lot of these young guys, they’re diligent and they’re doing what we ask them to do. They’ll go out there, they’ll work and we’ve got to drag them off the field in some sessions because they’re just working on their extras, and working on their weaknesses and their strengths.

“I can’t speak highly enough of him, Gavin, joking apart. He’s a great example of a guy who has applied himself and he has had a taste of what playing feels like and he just wants more and more.”

peter-omahony Peter O'Mahony returns from Ireland duty. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

While there is excitement about Munster’s emerging stars, Johann van Graan and his coaching staff won’t be underestimating the value of their returning Ireland internationals.

Stander, Murray, Tadhg Beirne, Andrew Conway, Shane Daly, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, and John Ryan are all back and available before selection, while captain O’Mahony returns after one of his best games for Ireland last weekend against Scotland.

“He’s a warrior, Pete, a proper warrior. I love working with the guy,” said Rowntree. “He needs to cheer up now and then, but we’re working on that!

“But no, he played well, didn’t he? I love his aggression around the ruck and just his aggression. Even with a foot in touch, he’s arguing with the touch judge, ‘Who put the line there?’

“He’s good for the group because he pulls people along with his standards and his leadership. He’s more of a ‘follow me, lads’ than a big speaker. I like that. But no, he’ll be great… if selected. He’ll be great for us at the weekend. He’s got to get past Gav Coombes first!”

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Murray Kinsella

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