Munster’s planning for Wasps clash liable to go right to the wire

Johann van Graan says a number of players will make their Munster debuts in Coventry

Young Munster fullback  Patrick Campbell is in line to make his Munster debut against Wasps on Sunday in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Young Munster fullback Patrick Campbell is in line to make his Munster debut against Wasps on Sunday in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

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Munster’s preparations for their opening Heineken Champions Cup assignment against Wasps in Coventry on Sunday (kick-off 3.15pm, live on BT Sport) are liable to remain in a constant state of flux until Saturday or even the day of the game.

Following an unspecified number of more positive cases within the cohort of 34 which travelled back from South Africa just over a week ago, head coach Johann van Graan cannot even be sure whether he or any of the other senior coaches will be at the game.

“I don’t want to go into details but all four of the senior coaches, myself, Steve [Larkham], Graham [Rowntree] and JP [Ferreira] are in different positions for various reasons. So it’s a wait and see. We are not sure ourselves. Also I don’t want to go into any medical detail but all four of us are in different situations.

“So you might see some of us on the plane on Saturday, you might see some of us only arriving on Sunday and you might only see some of us back in the coming days or weeks at the HPC [high-performance centre],” said Van Graan, who was again non-forthcoming about his own future after recent confirmation that Larkham will take over at the Brumbies at the end of the season and speculation linking Van Graan with Bath.

In the meantime, Academy director Ian Costello continues to oversee training in the HPC among the 40 or so players under his watch, including the 22 additional players (all aged 21 or under) registered with EPCR on Wednesday.

But Munster will have to name a team by midday on Friday. Van Graan didn’t rule out some of those isolating in Ireland augmenting the squad but the team will be largely drawn from those who’ve been training in their HPC. This includes nine internationals and a smattering of uncapped academy players.

“The only thing that I can guarantee is that you are certainly going to see some players making their debuts on Sunday that have never played for Munster before,” said Van Graan, citing “a whole host of new faces from the AIL”, and he even freely admitted: “To be honest some of them I’ve only seen on video”.

“There’s no pressure on them, it’s about enjoying the week. As an example, all of a sudden Tony Butler, who is in our academy now, is training next to Damian de Allende,” said Van Graan, also mentioning recent Irish under-20s backrower Daniel Okeke and the Bandon loosehead James French.

Daniel Okeke could start at number eight for Munster against Wasps. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Daniel Okeke could start at number eight for Munster against Wasps. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

“You’ve got this great mix of academy and AIL lads training with guys that have just played Test rugby, guys who have just beaten the All Blacks. What a great way to potentially make your debut for Munster.”

Patrick Campbell, the Young Munster fullback who has been lighting up the AIL, could feature in an otherwise all-international backline with Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Keith Earls, Damian de Allende and Andrew Conway.

But aside from David Kilcoyne, Tadhg Beirne and Peter O’Mahony, the pack could have a more callow look. The only hookers who didn’t travel to South Africa are the uncapped Irish-qualified Declan Moore, recently acquired from Australia, and Scott Buckley, an academy player who has also played in the backrow for Munster ‘A’ this season.

Roman Salanoa’s recent recovery from injury is a boost, but he has only played seven games off the bench and the last of them in June.

Apart from Beirne, the only other lock is the 21-year-old Waterpark academy player Eoin O’Connor. One of those registered this week may be required to supplement O’Mahony and Okeke, a powerful ball-carrier, in the backrow, which could be someone like John Forde, a tall, rangy six , cum eight, who has been performing regularly and strongly for Cork Con this season.

The bench could also feature a host of uncapped academy players, including the aforementioned French, Buckley and the Garryowen Irish under-20s tighthead Mark Donnelly, halfbacks Ethan Coghlan and Butler, and jet-heeled winger Conor Phillips, back from Dubai with the Irish Sevens.

But Van Graan is long enough with Munster to adopt a classically defiant mode in the face of adversity.

“Since I’ve been the coach, since Munster started many years ago, no Munster team have gone on to the pitch if they don’t think they can win the game. So if we didn’t think we could win this game we wouldn’t send a team over.

“This is Europe, there’s four rounds of it and we don’t have any expectation in terms of we are going there to win. Will it be a massive challenge? Yes. Who knows what the result of the rugby game might be.

“The only thing that I can guarantee is that the 23 guys selected will give it their all in the Munster jersey and I think whatever result is achieved at around five o’clock on Sunday I believe that everybody will respect us for the fact that we turned up for this game, we backed our staff, we backed our players, and I think that’s what rugby is about.”

MUNSTER (possible v Wasps): Patrick Cambpell; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Declan Moore, Roman Salanoa; Eoin O’Connor, Tadhg Beirne; John Forde, Peter O’Mahony, Daniel Okeke.

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