Graham Rowntree has seemingly more or less confirmed fears that RG Snyman will not be appearing in any of Munster’s first block of seven URC games prior to the November international break, during which they themselves play South Africa on November 10th at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Munster have sorely missed the athleticism and physicality which the World Cup winning lock could have brought to their game over the last two-plus seasons, during which time he has been restricted to just 54 minutes’ playing time due to two cruciate ligament injuries.
The Munster rumour mill has suggested that Snyman has had another setback, although all Rowntree would say is that the 27-year-old will remain sidelined for the foreseeable future.
“He’s not quite there yet. He’s had a very difficult year and we’re not pushing him. All I can say at this point, for the foreseeable, he’s not quite ready yet.”
Munster currently have nine players with the Emerging Ireland squad in South Africa and a casualty list that in addition to Snyman includesAlex Kendellen (completing his return-to-play protocols), Gavin Coombes (groin), Jack Daly (knee) and Andrew Conway (knee).
Jean Kleyn is also a doubt for next Saturday’s game against Zebre Parma in Musgrave Park (kick-off 5.05pm) as he observes the return to play protocols, Keith Earls hasn’t trained this week due to the hamstring injury which also forced him off early in the 23-17 defeat by the Dragons last Sunday and Peter O’Mahony is troubled by an ankle injury he sustained in that game.
But Rowntree said of his captain: “At this point, [the injury is] not serious at all. We’ll wait and see what happens in selection later in the week.”
Rory Scannell is back training and despite Chris Farrell also standing down from rugby indefinitely, Rowntree played down the need for re-enforcements. “Currently our squad depth is good in that area.”
The newly promoted head coach hasn’t hidden his displeasure with Munster’s opening two performances in defeats by Cardiff and, especially, last Sunday against the Dragons. “I’m still annoyed,” he admitted again on Wednesday.
“But a different context, yeah, a different context to previous roles.
“I require honesty from my players, so they are going to get honesty from me and they are comfortable with that. Again, we can’t hide away from our inabilities on Sunday.”
This was not the start Rowntree had envisaged, much less wanted.
“Well, I could have done without it, to be honest with you. I would have preferred better results, but no, you deal with what’s in front of you.
“Again, I have been around long enough to understand how to speak to people, control my emotions at the right time. But [it’s] a different experience, a different experience.”
Despite the defeats by Cardiff and the Dragons, after warm-up losses at home to Gloucester and London Irish, and especially the paucity of the performance last Sunday, Rowntree was adamant in maintaining that Munster had a highly productive pre-season.
Furthermore, although the timing of Peter O’Mahony’s wedding a week before the Cardiff game has been mentioned in dispatches, the Munster head coach was dismissive of any notion that his squad have been undercooked.
“They are certainly not undercooked. I have never seen us as fit. It’s skills under pressure, things just didn’t work out for us and again, it’s a lot of stuff that we can control. Trying to force things that’s just not us. Ill-discipline, we’ve not had such a high penalty count for a long time. That’s on us. That’s our controllable.
“We have had a good, stern, honest review. We move forward. What else can you do? You work on what you can do and you look forward to the next game. As I said earlier, I have nothing but belief in the body of work we’ve done for the last few months. It’s just got to come out now.”
There were bound to be some teething problems under a new coaching ticket and Rowntree and new attack coach Mike Prendergast are seeking to develop a more high tempo game but that, the head coach also maintained, was no excuse for 13 mostly basic handling errors which spread like a malaise through their team in Rodney Parade, more that players were perhaps overthinking things.
“Exactly. I can’t say to a guy ‘stop dropping the ball’, but I can say to a guy ‘we don’t practice that kind of pass, you’re trying to force things, stick to the plan’. They’re the ones that frustrated me, where we didn’t stick to the plan, and were trying to be too fancy. Trying to make overhead, long bridge passes, where little handling passages would do.”
At face value, the visit of Zebre looks like a no-win game for Munster given they have won all 18 previous meetings, and the last five by an average winning margin of 33 points. Rowntree preferred to describe it as must-win, which seems equally apt given Munster’s ensuing four games are against Connacht (away), Bulls (home), Leinster (away) and Ulster (home).
Yet on foot of replacing 21 of their squad in the close season with an injection of more experienced players, Zebre have scored ten tries (compared to Munster’s two) in high-scoring defeats at home by Leinster and the Sharks.
“I think they’ve been entertaining,” said Rowntree. “They’ve scored some tries at home. They’re coming over here full of confidence. They’ve had two very good performances, playing a very quick brand of rugby. We’ve seen you can’t kick poorly against them and give them too much free ball. Yeah, I’ve been really impressed.”