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Van Graan backs 'big leader' Bleyendaal to step up for Munster

JJ Hanrahan looks set to miss Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Ospreys.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

MUNSTER HAVE NOT given up hope of having JJ Hanrahan available for Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup opener away to Ospreys, but it is looking increasingly likely that the province will head into the game with only one senior fit out-half available.

Hanrahan, who was injured in the win against Ulster last weekend, had a scan on a hamstring problem on Monday, and while the results showed no serious damage he is not expected to be fit for this weekend’s game in Swansea.

With Joey Carbery also sidelined, head coach Johann van Graan will place his trust in Tyler Bleyendaal as the province look to make a winning start in the so-called ‘Group of Death’. Following the Ospreys game the province host Racing at Thomond Park, before a December double-header against reigning champions Saracens.

“He [Hanrahan] got a scan, slight possibility still for the weekend, we’ll make a final call later in the week, otherwise hopefully next weekend,” said van Graan.

“It’s not serious, that’s great news, that’s not going to be long term, so we’ll give him every chance possible for this weekend, otherwise the next, and we’ll just reassess as we go, but it’s not serious.”

While Bleyendaal has failed to nail down a starting position in the team in recent seasons, battling a number of injuries during that time, van Graan is confident the 29-year-old will step up to the mark this weekend. 

“He’s calm. He’s very experienced. He’s played in a lot of big games for Munster before. He’s one of those players who sees things before they happen, and he’s a big leader within our group. He was our player of the season three years ago, and he’s got such an influence within the group. I think he’s been playing pretty well over the course of the season. JJ started the season with two games, then Tyler played two, then JJ unfortunately got injured, so we had a fair load sharing between the 10s.”

Van Graan will be desperate to keep Bleyendaal fit to avoid a deepening injury crisis in the position, but Munster captain Peter O’Mahony was quick to point out that the province can move players around if needed, with centre Rory Scannell and scrum-half Conor Murray both capable of acting as cover.

“He’s a class act, he’s very, very cool,” said O’Mahony of Bleyendaal.

“Delivers message excellently. Obviously a very good footballer and just runs the game really really well. Look, there’s huge competition there. You know, JJ is still in the mix, you have guys like Rory and Murr who can cover 10. Whoever steps in and gets the chance will be more than capable.”

Chris Cloete will not be available after failing a HIA against Ulster, while Dave Kilcoyne will be sidelined for ‘a few weeks’. 

While Munster enter the game on the back of a strong start to the new Guinness Pro14 season, winning five games from six, Ospreys have endured a horrid run of form, including a 28-12 defeat to Munster in Musgrave Park last month. The Welsh side have lost five games already, and while they will welcome back a handful of internationals this weekend it is a big ask for the group to hit the ground running on their return. 

“We said it at the previous game in Cork, this game has got nothing to do with previous form, in our opinion,” added van Graan.

“It’s a new competition, it’s a different referee group from England, so everything is different. Different players, different mindsets, you know how teams look at this competition, so what happened before this game doesn’t matter.

“It’s Munster versus the Ospreys in round one of Europe and it’s a game we’re looking forward to very much, and the only thing we can worry about is what happens on Saturday afternoon.

“We’ve got a very tough pool, everyone does, and we’re really looking forward to getting started on the weekend with Ospreys away. Every minute of this competition is important, every point that you score, every point that you concede, so it’s great to be involved and we’re looking forward to it.”

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