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Champions Cup

Zebo primed for return as Erasmus settles on strongest combinations for Munster

Munster’s director of rugby was happy to name the majority of his back-line, and hints that Tyler Bleyendaal is his first choice at out-half.

RASSIE ERASMUS WON’T be accused of team selection obfuscation anyway.

While he left a few shirt numbers open to debate and competition on the training fields, yesterday he was happy enough to identify the bulk of his back-line for Sunday’s Champions Cup clash away in Castres.

“Our centres will be Rory (Scannell) and Chris (Farrell), definitely for this game and Earlsy will definitely be at 11,” Erasmus lays out happily within Munster’s gleaming facility in UL.

What’s left? We can’t foresee Conor Murray getting dropped in this decade and Simon Zebo, who trained in leggings to protect an external infection around his knee, should be fit to fill that fullback slot.

Then the right wing becomes a straight race between Andrew Conway and Darren Sweetnam, so for many, the big back-line question is number 10. But the success achieved with Tyler Bleyendaal last season would make an omission firmly in the realms of shock. Particularly for a tough, tight trip to southern France when Erasmus wants a proven game manager.

“We know what Tyler can do so maybe give one of them (JJ Hanrahan or Ian Keatley) an A side game and keep the other one on the bench. We’ll try and make the right decision there, but it’s nice to see JJ going the way he is going.”

Concern isn’t the right word, but Erasmus wasn’t in the Munster setup during Hanrahan’s emergence and so he has yet to see the Kerryman take the reins in a tight contest that requires his guidance. Although the director of rugby has has been suitably impressed by how the 25-year-old takes advantage in unstructured situations.

I think he’s a player with a tremendous X-factor somebody who doesn’t need to play to a pattern. I think when he came on against Cardiff he was magnificent, running lines and opportunity. I haven’t worked with him under pressure as a 10. When he played 10 on Saturday, when he moved to fly-half, we were chasing the game we had got a yellow card and we were out of the game a little bit.”

Erasmus stressed that he does believe Hanrahan has the ability to do all those conservative essentials required of a complete 10. The door is also open for him to act as a second or third playmaker from centre or fullback, but the South African is wary of spreading the homegrown talent too thin.

JJ Hanrahan kicks for touch Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“If he’s a guy who sits on the bench and covers 10 and 15 I think that would be bad for his career, but if he settles into one of the positions and covers the other one as well it’s a wonderful option for us to have. So hopefully we don’t make him into a jack of all trades.”

Of course, the form and face of the man in the out-half role won’t matter if Munster can’t set a steady platform up front. A fully fit Jean Kleyn would be a massive boost for the engine roomthis week. The lock was noted as one to watch by the province’s medical team this week as he nurses a neck issue, but if push comes to shove for Erasmus, he won’t be keeping his compatriot in cotton wool in Champions Cup week.

“Jean Kleyn was positive. I must say it’s a 70% chance. If he gets through a full week he’ll be good to go. There is doubt still, but I think he’ll be good to go.”

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