Munster likely to have Duncan Williams start against Exeter
Johann van Graan will wait as long as possible on fitness of Alby Mathewson
It’s looking increasingly likely that Duncan Williams will start at scrumhalf for Munster on Saturday with 21-year old Jack Stafford providing cover on the bench when they open their Heineken Champions Cup campaign away to Exeter Chiefs.
Munster coach Johann van Graan is waiting the results of a scan to see if former All Black Alby Mathewson can recover from the knee injury picked up in the loss against Leinster.
Van Graan, who confirmed Monday at Munster’s weekly press conference in Limerick that Conor Murray was definitely out of the trip to Sandy Park, said they would wait as long as possible to see if Mathewson makes it.
“Alby’s going for a scan a bit later and we’ll wait and see what’s going to happen there.
“In a perfect would you would want a guy to train on a Tuesday, not only on a Thursday, but at certain stages when you see what you have available as a coach there is no hard and fast rules with these things.
“Let’s see what the scan says first, if he is out then obviously he is out, if it is 50-50 I am going to give him as long as I can to recover and then take it from there,” said van Graan.
And with James Hart and Neil Cronin also out through injury, van Graan may only have Williams and Stafford to select if Mathewson doesn’t pull through.
Williams has made 21 appearances in the Champions Cup in a lengthy Munster career which has seen the 32-year old chalk up 158 games.
Wexford-man Stafford, who was 21 during the summer, has only made three Pro14 appearances off the bench, totalling 18 minutes of game-time. He made his debut in Parma last November against Zebre, van Graan’s first game in charge and the coach has no doubt Williams and Stafford are capable of doing a good job.
“Duncan’s been there on multiple occasions, a very experienced nine and then we’ve got Jack Stafford who’s been going really well for the A team. A young player that’s been waiting for an opportunity and we’ll how things pan out.
“He’s registered. We already saw a few weeks ago that we were quite thin on nines so he’s registered and if he wasn’t we’ve got a few slots that we can add guys in. I think we’ll know a bit more later from our medical side.
“It might be an opportunity in Europe this week and again, that’s the beauty of sport, you can’t plan for these things and if they happen the next guy in has got to take his opportunity and who knows what might happen.”
Fullback Mike Haley, prop John Ryan and hooker Rhys Marshall are all back in the mix and available for selection as Munster face a daunting task away to the English Premiership leaders who have chalked up six wins from six this season – the same as Saracens – with each of them collecting five bonus points.
And van Graan confirmed that Tyler Bleyendaal, out since February with a neck injury, is back in full training this week, prompting the query about whether he might be sprung for the trip to England.
“It’s always tempting to bring a player of Tyler’s class, it’s always tempting to put an experienced player in there but to be fair to Tyler as well he’s still got to get through contact this week but he’s in a very good headspace and like I said a few weeks ago he’s very confident and smiling and taking things in his stride.
“As a coach you always want to make the best decision for the team first and then for the individual, so but to be fair to him as well we’ll assess it as we go but we’re very lucky to have five good fly halves at this stage,” added van Graan.