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'A different challenge' - Munster's Larkham looking forward to inter-pros even if Irish stars will be absent

The Australian is happy with the upcoming schedule.

Updated Dec 18th 2019, 9:01 AM

MUNSTER COACH STEPHEN Larkham is looking forward to a triple dose of Irish inter-pro derbies even if the provinces will be without their World Cup players for most of the festive programme.

stephen-larkham Munster coach Stephen Larkham. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The Australian said he fully appreciates the value of these clashes and doesn’t expect to be any less intense even if so many star players have to sit out two consecutive games.

The traditional Munster-Leinster Christmas clash is the biggest casualty of the IRFU mandate as it comes in the middle of the festive programme and most of the World Cup players will not be involved, but Larkham said there is no issue with this.

“That’s the agreement that we’ve come to with the IRFU and we are comfortable for it,” he said. “We’ve known about it for a long time. But in this block of three games we have to rest certain players for two consecutive weeks.

It really depends on the number of games they played in the World Cup as well and what their injury profile has been since, so it’s not necessarily ruling everyone out. But two consecutive weeks for the majority of those players.

Larkham has already tasted one derby when Munster defeated Ulster 22-16 last month and he’s looking forward to renewing acquaintances with fellow Canberra native Andy Friend when they take on Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday, after working with him with the Brumbies.

“He was one of my first coaches when I was a younger player, he was a representative coach that came and did a little bit of work with a team that I was involved with.

andy-friend Andy Friend at Connacht's press conference yesterday. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

“Then, my first coaching gig was with Friendy. I’ve got a lot of respect for Friendy, I think he’s doing a good job.

“He’s changed his coaching style a little bit this year, but he’s still getting results.”

The World Cup has ensured it has been a disruptive first season with Munster for Larkham.

It is a different challenge, there is no doubt about that. We haven’t had everyone from the start, which is what I’d be used to. We had a really good run with the guys that didn’t go to the World Cup and there was a fair bit of learning involved with those guys because everything was new.

“So, we have sort of been up and down a little bit. There is the period when we didn’t have the World Cup players where we didn’t have games either, so it was like a mini pre-season. It was a pretty long pre-season where we could implement some stuff over a longer term. When the international players came back, we could finally, combined as the bigger squad. We have had to go through that process again, but at the same time we had focus on winning the game at the weekend.

“It has been a slower process to get everything in. We have made big improvement with the squad over the last two weeks I felt and the boys get a bit of a rest now but we’ll continue that improvement when the players come back from their break.”

Meanwhile, Larkham says it will be a number of weeks before they are able to get a clear picture on when Tadhg Beirne will return after breaking his ankle in the 15-6 loss to Saracens at the weekend.

tadhg-beirne-has-to-leave-the-field-due-to-a-knee-injury Beirne leaving the field on Saturday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s an operation that we need to see the report from,” he continued. “Then we also need to see how he progresses over the first couple of weeks in terms of his rehab.

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“We’ll be pushing into the months, yeah. We’re certainly more than one month. An operation will take generally at least four weeks, we don’t have a time frame at this stage but we are sort of guessing it is going to be a longer term.”

The southern province are also waiting to assess the extent of the groin injury which forced team captain Peter O’Mahony to withdraw before the Saracens match on Saturday.

Larkham also noted that Joey Carbery is getting closer to a return to play and while he won’t be available for the Connacht match in Galway on Saturday, he is not far away from a return from a troublesome ankle injury.

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John Fallon

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