Munster expect Peter O’Mahony, who has “turned a corner, a good corner”, to be available to play against Exeter in next week’s Champions Cup second round, with Bayonne’s arrival in Thomond Park on Saturday coming a week too early for the Irish backrow.
O’Mahony’s presence in the pack in 10 days promises to bring some heavyweight character to a Munster squad that has been hit hard with injury before this weekend’s opening Champions Cup match against the French side.
With RG Snyman and Jean Kleyn also unavailable Munster must make do without two World Cup-winning Springbok players. Snyman is out for most of the season with Kleyn unavailable until the new year due to an eye injury suffered in Munster’s match against Leinster a few weeks ago.
“All going well, he [O’Mahony] will be available to us next week,” says Munster attack coach Mike Prendergast. “It goes without saying that two World Cup-winning secondrows, for any team to lose them is a big loss. On the other hand, it’s opened the door and created opportunities. The likes of Edwin [Edogbo] in the secondrow and even Tom Ahern, we’ve pushed him into the backrow.
“Those two lads have taken their opportunities which has softened the blow a bit. In saying that, when you lose players of the calibre and experience of the two boys it is a loss. But the two lads have stepped up as well. They are in amongst a world-class player in Tadhg Beirne as well and Fineen Wycherley. In an area where we lose quality, we have a nice bit of quality there in our back five players. A lot of them are adaptable as well and that’s the way the game is going and it’s very important for us.”
As a player and later a coach with Grenoble, Oyonnax, Stade Francais and most recently Racing 92, Prendergast knows his way around French rugby and what Bayonne will bring. Although he reserves the right to generalise until they name their team, Bayonne are a physically big side that will work off the set piece and kick well.
Relative newcomers, they were in Pro D2 two years ago and earned promotion last year, making the top six in a convincing season at the higher level. Very strong at home, away this year they were just narrowly beaten by La Rochelle and Toulon, who are currently in second position in the French Top 14, one point behind Racing 92.
“From my experience in France when teams get up from Pro D2, they are looking to maintain and stay there,” says Prendergast. “They [Bayonne] went on and they made the top six. They recruited very wisely over the last number of years and they have brought a couple of players back that were from their academy.
“When you look at the likes of Camille Lopez, who was in their academy as a young lad and went to Clermont for a number of years. Look at them in the league, they are 10th, only four points off the top six. They have a good team going there, a good coaching staff. I know a few of them and they are a year in Top 14 last year and making the top six.
“How they will approach the Champions Cup I’m not sure. We’ll know when they name their team. They would set themselves around their set piece and their kicking game, one that’s very, very strong and that can be hard to play against.”
Prendergast hopes recent tough matches in the United Rugby Championship against Leinster and Glasgow will serve Munster well, although the five tries conceded against Glasgow has required some closer inspection. The defensive maul was one area singled out this week, which Bayonne are expected to try to exploit.
Exeter, currently sixth in the Premiership league table, away in Sandy Park on Sunday week, is also expected be a challenging test of Munster fortitude. They have got to believe they can, at least, find their “flow” as Prendergast calls it and win the home match.
“From a defensive point of view, the access we allowed them last week was through our discipline and that’s what it came down to,” he says. “Obviously Glasgow have a good strong maul. Graham [Rowntree] and Andi [Kyriacou] spoke to the forwards this week. They’ve looked at aspects of our defence maul.
“It is something that this week we’ve got to be aware of because we are playing a team that have a very good lineout and they have a heavy maul so look we know they will be coming looking for that and that’s in our hands.”
Munster have not yet decided on who their permanent captain will be after O’Mahony stepped down after 10 years in the job. Hooker Diarmuid Barron is currently filling the role.
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