Munster have welcomed back their nine-strong international contingent who had varying workloads in the Autumn Nations Cup and now face some difficult selections given the rest of the squad have won seven games out of seven in their absence.
Tadhg Beirne, Andrew Conway, Shane Daly, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Conor Murray, Peter O'Mahony, John Ryan and CJ Stander all rejoined the squad at their HPC in Limerick yesterday and have an extra day's preparation ahead of Sunday's Heineken Champions Cup opener against Harlequins at Thomond Park.
"They're used to it, they've done it before," said forwards coach Graham Rowntree of the nine returning Irish players. "We were able to give them some video clips of what we've been doing since they've been away and we've got them up to speed pretty quickly.
“They’ve trained well and we’ve just come off the back of a pretty tasty forwards units session and the lads have slipped back in nicely. They’re diligent people and nowadays we can put stuff online so they finish the Irish camp and then focus on what we’re trying to do.”
That said, the Munster coaching ticket would have no qualms about selecting some of the younger players who have come through in the last two months.
“We wouldn’t pick them if they weren’t comfortable. The art to coaching and selection is bringing them in at the right time and with the right combinations. Johann [van Graan], in particular, is very good at that – picking experienced guys around them – and it has worked.
“Fans are enjoying it because they’re used to it. Think of the Munster legends who have gone before them who all started in the academy. Now we want to produce and promote that homegrown talent because it’s the bedrock of the club.
“This is a chance where they’ve got to get on with it. We’ve got every confidence in them and can’t wait to see them play.”
One player who has been ruled out is Matt Gallagher, the English-born, Irish qualified wing cum fullback who played 44 games for Saracens in his six years there but will have to undergo surgery on a shoulder tomorrow.
“He has took his chances, he’s played well, and to get injured the way he did over the tryline, that’s sad for Matt. It’s another unlucky player who was in some real form. He’s a good lad as well, he has really fitted in here, such a good lad to coach. He’s a real giver, he helps to coach the lads on the field and he will be a real loss. Hope he gets better real quickly.”
Against that Fineen Wycherley has recovered from a groin injury.
“He’s training, we’ll see how he recovers from today. Today is quite a strenuous day – well, it is for the forwards. It’s quite a strenuous day all round and we’ll see how he recovers. I think he’ll be all right, he’s a tough kid,” ventured Rowntree.
In addition to Gallagher, the Munster players still sidelined are Alex McHenry (thumb), Jeremy Loughman (shoulder), Niall Scannell (neck), Neil Cronin (knee), Dave Kilcoyne (ankle), RG Snyman (knee) and Joey Carbery (ankle).
The Harlequins centre Andre Esterhuizen has been handed a four-week ban for striking with his elbow during last weekend's Premiership game at Gloucester, for which he was red carded in the 45th minute. Despite that Harlequins won 34-24.