Munster confirm a number of positive Covid cases among returned players

Johann van Graan hails ‘beauty of Munster Rugby’ in face of adversity

Johann van Graan: ‘ We’re a strong group of people and that’s the beauty of Munster Rugby – it’s built on our community’. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Johann van Graan: ‘ We’re a strong group of people and that’s the beauty of Munster Rugby – it’s built on our community’. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Munster have confirmed that an unspecified number of the 34-strong travelling party which have been in isolation since they returned from Cape Town to Ireland last week ago have since tested positive for Covid, although head coach Johann van Graan has stressed that “nobody is very sick”.

However, a select few may still be involved in the province’s opening Heineken Champions Cup game against Wasps in Coventry this Sunday (kick-off 3.15pm) and it remains to be seen what coaching and back-up staff will be with the playing squad in the English midlands.

Amid the significant logistical difficulties Munster face in putting a squad together for Sunday’s game, some of the 14 people in their original travelling party to South Africa for their postponed URC games who tested positive and had to remain will begin returning today.

It is hoped that all of the 14 will be back in Ireland by Friday or Saturday, at which point they must undergo further quarantining at their own locations.

“There’s so many dynamics at play here. All I will say is that public health has been excellent in assisting us. There’s a full PCR testing programme going on,” said Van Graan, who did not rule out the possibility that a few of those who have been isolating for the last week might take part against Wasps.

“There will potentially be certain players available. We’ve got to announce a team on Friday afternoon, we’ve still got to go and get through training after that, so anything is possible at this stage.

“But the main message from myself and all the coaches this week is that the whole focus is on the players in the HPC [high-performance centre]. If we need any assistance in terms of selection, we will give that but you have to also look at the bigger picture here.

“Guys have been sitting in their hotel rooms for almost two weeks, at home. Some players are sick, others aren’t. It hasn’t been ideal but we are putting all our effort into the players at the HPC. If we can and need to, we will assist from the outside.”

It is clear therefore that Munster intend to draw primarily on the cabal of 17 or so fit players who have been training at their HPC in the University of Limerick under academy manager Ian Costello, and which they have supplemented by the addition of another 22 players who were registered with the EPCR today.

These include three recent additions to the Munster academy, 19-year-old Young Munster fullback Patrick Campbell, the 19-year-old Garryowen outhalf Tony Butler and 18 year old Cobh Pirates lock Edwin Edogbo, although he is currently injured.

The remaining 19 are either NTS (national talent squad) or PTS (provincial talent squad) members, and all of the 22 players are 21 or younger. The majority of the 22 have featured in the All-Ireland League, and 15 of them played for a Munster Development XV in fixtures against Ulster and Leinster earlier this season.

It was always likely that Munster would delve into their own playing pool, and Van Graan confirmed that loan signings were not considered.

“The decision first was do we have enough resources at Munster Rugby? The answer is a definite yes. We never looked to the outside, we’re looking at our homegrown players first.

“We’ve got a very well aligned professional academy and domestic game. Between Cossie and Colm McMahon, there’s been excellent work on the ground. In the five years I’ve been here, it’s certainly the most aligned we’ve been.

“We were always going to play this game, supplement the squad with guys from around the province and back guys in the jersey on Sunday.”

Not for the first time in their storied history with the Champions Cup, Munster have their backs against the wall and history has shown us that they often thrive in adversity.

“Luckily, last season our theme when Covid started was ‘change or be changed’ so we’re well used to change now. I’m not for one second going to say that if you told me two weeks ago this was going to happen, that I could even imagine things happening at this stage,” said Van Graan, putting their last fortnight into perspective.

“I’m not going to talk around that but that’s the beauty of rugby and the beauty of the squad. Like Peter [O’Mahony] said earlier, it’s certainly not the worst thing that has happened - nobody has passed away during the week.

“We’re a strong group of people and that’s the beauty of Munster Rugby – it’s built on our community. We’ll get through this. Rugby is very secondary at this stage. We’re going to pick a team for Sunday, we’re going to fly over to Coventry, we’re going to play the game and we’re going to give it our best shot. That shows the spirit of Munster Rugby.”

Sitting in what appeared to be a darkened hotel room with the curtains drawn, the strain of the past 12 days or so must have told on all concerned, Van Graan included, and he admitted wryly: “It hasn’t been ideal, so many things have happened since we heard the news on that Friday morning whilst we were in Pretoria after our preparation for the Bulls game.

“We travelled to Cape Town, got to the boarding gate, didn’t make the plane and went into isolation at a hotel in Cape Town. We picked up a few positive cases, and having to leave guys behind, getting on a plane and getting back to Ireland and going to different parts in hotels, at home, quarantining, it’s certainly been challenging.

“But nobody is very sick, and we’ve got brilliant people at Munster, we are very well aligned as an organisation, from everybody that’s left in Cape Town, everybody that’s at home in hotels quarantining and everybody at the HPC has been brilliant, from top to bottom.

“The support we’ve received from all over the world in South Africa, and Ireland, the Government, has been exceptional, and between the coaches, myself, Steve, Graham, JP and Ian, Greg and Andy since they joined in July we’ve been working closely together, and that comes through in weeks like this.

“All credit to the players, everybody is on the same page. It’s been a challenge, but we’ve adapted as we have many times before, and we’re really looking forward to the week ahead.”

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