Conor Murray ruled out of Munster’s clash with Saracens

Duncan Williams set to start at scrumhalf for make-or-break tie

Conor Murray: neck injury means he will miss Munster’s final two pool games in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Conor Murray: neck injury means he will miss Munster’s final two pool games in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

 

Conor Murray has been ruled out of Munster’s two concluding European Champions Cup pool games, away to Saracens tomorrow and at home to Sale on Sunday week due to a neck injury. Maintaining the province’s cruel luck this season, they will confirm the results of a scan on the injury which Murray sustained in the win away to Zebre a week ago today, with Duncan Williams set to start.

Murray has become even more influential for Munster this season, notably with a man of the match performance in the 14-3 win over Saracens at Thomond Park in October, but is now going to be sidelined for a few weeks. The initial signs are that he should be fit again in time for Ireland’s opening tie in the defence of their Six Nations crown away to Italy on February 7th when Johnny Sexton will be sidelined, three weeks further along the line.

Admittedly, Williams has benefitted from more regular game time and has arguably enjoyed his best season with Munster. He was confident and particularly influential when starting in the home win over Leinster on St Stephen’s Day, but this still represents a decidedly ill-timed blow for Anthony Foley’s team given how Murray’s running and kicking games, as well as directing the close-in traffic when Munster have gone through the phases, have become such key factors in their game plan under Foley. The expectation is that James Cronin, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha, Paul O’Connell and Tommy O’Donnell will all be restored to the pack, with Peter O’Mahony reverting to blindside and CJ Stander obviously retained at number eight.

Denis Hurley, who also shone in that home win over Saracens, will most likely be restored to the starting line-up given the anticipated physicality of this make-or-break game for both sides. He will line up inside Pat Howard, with JJ Hanrahan’s different array of game-breaking skills more likely to be kept back as a Plan B, whether as an alternative at outhalf or more probably as a second playmaker at inside centre off the bench.

It remains to be seen whether Keith Earls is restored on the wing ahead of Andrew Conway, who was also outstanding in that home win. Earls had his first outing of the campaign a week ago.

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