Munster likely to be without Carbery and Earls for Connacht clash
Kilcoyne also a doubt for Pro14 clash having picked up an ankle injury against Saracens
Keith Earls looking dejected following the defeat to Saracens at the Ricoh Arena. Photographer: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Dave Kilcoyne is the latest of Munster’s Irish internationals to pick up an injury, and he is a doubt for Saturday’s inter-pro derby with Connacht due to an ankle injury sustained in the province’s Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Saracens at the weekend.
To have any chance of topping Conference A in the league and securing a last-four tie at Thomond Park, Munster must beat Connacht on Saturday, and hope that Edinburgh can deny current leaders Glasgow Warriors in their last game.
Failure to top the group will see Munster host a quarter-final against either Benetton Rugby, Edinburgh and Scarlets and become the only side in the competition to play seven weeks running since the Pro14 and European action resumed after the Six Nations.
The heavy demand remain a concern for van Graan, and he admitted Munster missed the creativity of Carbery and Earls against a dominant Saracens side.
“In big games you need your quality players fit,” said van Graan. “I’ve got 100 per cent confidence in the guys that we put on the field and Tyler Bleyendaal and JJ Hanrahan gave it all they’ve got, as did Darren Sweetnam, who scored that try.
“Did we miss Joey and Earlsy? We most definitely did. They are some of our best players and you need your best players fit in a game like this.”
Earls has been sidelined since he was pulled out in the warm-up prior to Munster’s win over Cardiff Blues in Cork two-and-a-half weeks ago. Initially he was diagnosed with tightness in his leg muscles, but his thigh muscle injury has van Graan concerned.
“Keith came in and got an opportunity to get on the field on Saturday but we took him out last Thursday. We’ll reassess him this week and as soon as he becomes available I’ll pick him.
“It’s obviously a thigh injury there’s no perfect scenario with. He’s got to feel 100 per cent right to get on the field. The information from our medical side is once he’s 100 per cent ready we’ll put him back on the field.
“Joey ran last week. He hasn’t trained with the team as of yet. We’re not going to rush him back, we’ve already qualified for at least a home quarter-final so there’s still a lot of rugby to be played. He’s been injured twice now with hamstring injuries so we’d like to give him some sort of training time and then we’ll put him back in.”
With James Cronin out with a leg injury since September, most of the loosehead game-time has been gobbled up by Kilcoyne, but if he misses out on Saturday Jeremy Loughman could come in for his tenth start of the season.
“Dave Kilcoyne, it looks like his ankle. He’ll hopefully be able to train later in the week. He’s been one of our unsung heroes, he’s played literally every game, I thought he was in fantastic form in the Six Nations as well and if he’s available for this weekend we’ll pick him.
“But if it’s a 50-50 we won’t take a chance with him when there’s also a possible quarter or semi coming up.”
The Munster players who played at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday were given an extra day off yesterday and will be back today as preparation for the visit of Connacht ramps up.
First job for van Graan will be lifting the spirits of his squad following their exit in Europe’s semi-finals for a third straight season as they bid to end their barren spell without silverware since winning the league in 2011.
“You put your heart and soul into that performance and it’s not me, it’s all of us. The management and the players, we gave it all we got and we got short. We’ve got to face the reality, look at what happened in the game, take out what you can and move forward.
“It’s so disappointing to get to a semi-final and lose it. You’re literally 80 minutes away from getting into a European final and now the dream is over.”
Meanwhile, Jaco Taute’s move to Leicester Tigers was confirmed yesterday. The South African was signed by Rassie Erasmus in 2016 but the 27-year-old made just three starts this season.