Stander's injury an untimely blow for Munster
RUGBY:Munster, suffering a similar fate to what befell Leinster last week, must soldier into this crucial Heineken Cup period without their recently recruited South African experiment as CJ Stander has been ruled out for the remainder of the Pool stages with a fractured hand.
The injury occurred, unbeknownst even to the player, during his two-try man-of-the-match showing against Glasgow Warriors last Saturday. A scan has revealed serious damage just below the index finger that rules him out for at least six weeks.
It was only his second appearance for Munster, having come off the bench for the injured Niall Ronan against the Scarlets on November 25th. Stander only arrived in late October after playing a full Currie Cup campaign with the Blue Bulls.
Leinster’s new lock Quinn Roux badly dislocated his shoulder on November 23rd after his recent switch from Western Province.
With Tommy O’Donnell (ankle), Ronan (head/neck), along with the other new signing, openside flanker Sean Dougall (knee) also ruled out, Munster face English heavyweights Saracens on Saturday at Thomond Park with their backrow options down to the bare bones.
It was put to Munster captain Doug Howlett, after training yesterday at the University of Limerick, that every European squad would struggle with the loss of so many backrowers, especially considering the new players were attempting the near impossible; replacing injury-enforced retirees and Munster legends Denis Leamy and David Wallace.
“The pleasing thing is we have a quality player in James Coughlan coming back,” said Howlett, accentuating the surprise return of the number eight several weeks ahead of schedule from a groin injury. “Peter O’Mahony returns from international duty and Dave O’Callaghan has had some fantastic games for us this year.
“We are lucky we do have a lot of depth. In terms of CJ’s situation that had played out earlier in the year and is magnified by his hand injury.”
Howlett was presumably referring to the 22-year-old’s delay in arriving due to a crossover in northern and southern hemisphere competitions.
South Africa’s under-20s captain at the 2010 World Cup, Stander is a highly rated prospect.
It seems likely O’Callaghan will make his first European start, and just his 19th Munster cap, with the alternatives being Billy Holland, Paddy Butler or even Donnacha Ryan shifting from lock to blindside.
Not in contention
However, Paul O’Connell is not in contention to play this weekend, due to a chronic back problem, so Ryan is expected to remain in the second row.
“We’ve been in this situation for a few weeks now with Paul missing,” Howlett continued. “He’s added a lot during training and meetings and with Donnacha Ryan and Donncha O’Callaghan there, two experienced players, who also add a lot.”
The plan to register Stander for the Heineken Cup had to be shelved as Coughlan is fast-tracked back into the squad with Ivan Dineen deregistered.
It now means Stander cannot be included in their European panel until the quarter-final stages.
Considering Howlett is the All Blacks’ record try scorer, we sought his views on last Saturday’s astonishing 38-21 defeat at Twickenham. One game too many? Influenza?
“They’re not using that as an excuse. It’s just the way the game went,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to be the next opposition the All Blacks play after having six or seven months to stew about that game.”
How Munster coach Rob Penney would dearly love to discover similar motivational territory, what with the massive English/South African storm that will blow into Limerick come 6pm this Saturday.