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Can Munster finish the Johann Van Graan era with trophy success?

RG Snyman won’t be back this season but otherwise, the squad is shaping up well.

Johann van Graan is into the final few months of his time with Munster.
Johann van Graan is into the final few months of his time with Munster.
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

THE SIX NATIONS is done and dusted, the Ireland players are filtering back, and we are heading into the business end of the season for the provinces.

The big question for Munster is whether they can end this era with a trophy.

Head coach Johann van Graan is departing this summer after four-and-a-half seasons in charge, senior coach Stephen Larkham is heading for the exit door, and defence coach JP Ferreira will be joining van Graan in Bath. They’re all desperate to finish on a high.

Munster sit fourth in the URC with five regular-season games remaining but will hope finish in the top two to give themselves a better chance of a home semi-final if they reach that stage. The home-and-away Champions Cup round-of-16 clashes with Exeter are just around the corner too.

These are exciting times and the mood music coming out of Munster is positive. They’re just back from a two-game tour in South Africa and while they lost to the Bulls and Lions, it was a good experience for their squad.

“If we picked up one win out of those two, it could have been even better for us, but we bounced back this week, there’s a real buzz in the place reconnecting with the guys who are back in from the Six Nations,” says Larkham.

“The altitude and heat affected the boys, but they’re really feeling fit at the moment.

“Everything we went through on the tour, lots of dinners out, lots of time playing cards, socialising together, and it certainly brought us together a lot more than if we’d been at home. It’s the back end of the season now and it’s going to put us in good stead.”

simon-zebo Simon Zebo at Munster training yesterday. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Having all their best players fit and available will be key for Munster. They welcomed Craig Casey, Gavin Coombes, and Jeremy Loughman back from Ireland camp this week ahead of Friday’s night’s URC clash with Benetton in Cork.

Tadhg Beirne, Dave Kilcoyne, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, and Andrew Conway will all return next week, with Conway the only injury concern among them, although Larkham said his knee niggle shouldn’t be “anything really long-term.”

Damian de Allende returned from injury for the South Africa tour, while Springboks-capped lock Jason Jenkins is finally back in full training this week and will add plenty of ballast up front.

There was more positive news with second row Thomas Ahern, tighthead prop Roman Salanoa, and veteran wing Keith Earls all stepping up their training loads this week, that trio aiming for a return to team sessions next week. 

Having missed the Six Nations due to a hamstring injury, Earls is now “tracking really well,” according to Larkham, and should be back on the pitch by the time the Exeter games roll around next month.

Unfortunately, towering South African lock RG Snyman won’t feature during the run-in to this season as he continues his rehab of a re-ruptured ACL in his knee.

“Highly doubtful, it’d be a miracle,” says Larkham on the prospect of a surprise return for Snyman this season.

Nonetheless, there is a sense that Munster’s squad should be in relatively good shape over the coming months. The fact that young players like Josh Wycherley, Alex Kendellen, John Hodnett, and others have been impressive for Munster in recent months should make for strong competition for selection and stronger matchday 23s.

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shane-daly-ben-healy-and-jack-odonoghue Shane Daly, Ben Healy, and Jack O'Donoghue. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Though Munster came away without a win, they played some good rugby in spells in South Africa. They were superb for 60 minutes against the Lions, scoring three excellent tries in a performance that saw them offloading 18 times and showing different skills in the warm, dry weather.

“We have had a couple of games like that this year, Scarlets and Dragons, then we had the two games over there, and there have been a couple others as well,” says Larkham.

“It’s enjoyable to watch the boys enjoy their game. Some of the conditions we get over here are quite miserable, but we get used to that, it’s part and parcel of the game over here.

“We’re good in those conditions, but we’re showing we have the game when conditions are good.

“You probably go through November, December, January and February with wet-weather footie here, and then towards the back end of the competition you start to get some good weather, you can hold the ball a little bit more.

“We’ve been working on those skills. It’s not like we’ll play this way for the rest of the season, we’ll play each game as it comes and make sure the conditions are right. We can take a little bit of confidence that when conditions are good, we can hold the ball pretty well.”

Munster will need to be adaptable, have some luck on the injury front, and take every chance in front of them.

These are the final months of the van Graan chapter and the South African boss won’t be happy unless Munster finish with a trophy.

- Originally published at 06.00

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Murray Kinsella

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