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'At this stage our squad motto is just 'adapt'': Munster hope for Zebo fitness, but ready for Toulon pressure

The Corkman and Andrew Conway are both rated 50-50 by head coach Johann van Graan.

Johann van Graan arrives Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

SINCE JOHANN VAN Graan arrived to take up the Munster head coach role, he has carried a seemingly unshakable positive outlook.

For on-field matters, that mood remained after his men defeated Scarlets 19 – 7 in Thomond Park on Saturday, but the subject of his injury list kept bringing his mood back to neutral.

A HIA for Rory Scannell on top of an apparent shoulder injury for Tommy O’Donnell has added to the list of absentees and ‘maybes’ as he brings his squad together to prepare for next Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final at home to Toulon.

O’Donnell will likely join Keith Earls, Tyler Bleyendaal and Chris Farrell on the sideline for the longer term, but there remains a best-case scenario that Scannell, Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo could ride in behind the cavalry of Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander to meet the Top14 side.

CJ Stander at the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“At this stage, our squad’s motto is just ‘adapt’,” said Van Graan on Saturday evening.

Reassess on Monday, start at zero, whoever is available on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday for this game we will pick. If guys aren’t ready, we will go with guys next week who are 100%.”

In the case of Zebo’s hamstring, Van Graan adds:

“He is a doubt for next week, same with Andrew Conway. At least he did some work with the physios on field. I think it will be touch and go in both instances, so I would say 50-50 at this stage.

“It’s not something I can control at this stage, I have a lot of belief in our medical staff. Zeebs and Andrew want to be ready for next weekend, so it is all in the mind as well.”

Whoever will fill the jerseys, Munster will endeavour to adapt to their circumstances.

They showed their resolve and ability to do that during a frenetic win over Scarlets, coping with the width and tempo of Wayne Pivac’s champions in a first quarter which could have put the result beyond lesser teams.

Through a commitment to keeping the ball in their own hands and the help of a destructive scrum and maul, Munster turned a seven-point deficit after just seven minutes into a 19 – 7 win. And victory might have come with a bonus point were it not for some curious interruptions from referee Marius Mitrea and his TMO.


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JJ Hanrahan celebrates Alex Wootton's try JJ Hanrahan, who could start at fullback again against Toulon, celebrates Alex Wootton's try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Van Graan wasn’t getting caught up with the bafflement of James Cronin’s disallowed try – sent for a TMO long after the prop’s celebrations had subsided, but just before Ian Keatley could convert – he will keep his communications with referee chief Greg Garner behind closed doors. But even Mitrea gave Munster a good platform to show their adaptive qualities.

“One thing we work on is our body language,” says Van Graan, signalling that he wasn’t happy with his team’s efforts on that front in Edinburgh.

“I thought Billy (Holland, captain) was excellent in this game in terms of his leadership. Credit to the leadership group.

“When you are under a lot of pressure early in the game, we slowed the game down when we needed to and put up some pace when we needed to. That’s when you need your leadership group and your leader to come through and all credit to Billy Holland, week in week out, he’s there always looking to improve his game.

Aled Davies with Billy Holland Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“I thought the way he handled the referee was good. Put on pressure when he needed to and backed off when he needed to.”

The young South African adds: “I’m proudest of the way the players reacted to it. Going into knock-out games you might get a few decisions go against you there as well. I thought we re-grouped well and got that try and this was a game that went down right to the wire. I think we scored in the 77th or 78th minute and, yeah, we’ve just got to adapt I guess.

“(We’ll) get our Irish guys back on Monday, reassess, go through a slow Monday because there was a lot of running metres. Hard training week on Tuesday… and then in big games you need big players to come through and next week will be a game of pressure.

“Hopefully we will absorb pressure and convert some pressure.”

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