Simon Zebo still ‘touch and go’ to be fit for Toulon
Toulon will travel to Thomond Park on the back of 49-0 win over Clermont
“He (Zebo) will return to the training field this week but it’s still touch and go whether he will play.”
In addition to an already lengthy injury list, Johann van Graan has admitted that Simon Zebo (hamstring), Andrew Conway (knee) and Rory Scannell all remain doubtful for next Saturday’s European Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulon at Thomond Park (kick-off 3.15pm).
Zebo missed last Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 win over the Scarlets due to the hamstring injury which forced him off halfway through the defeat to Edinburgh a week previously. Speaking from Munster’s High Performance Centre in the University of Limerick as they began their week’s preparations, Van Graan said there is “still a lot of doubt regarding him. He will return to the training field this week but it’s still touch and go whether he will play. We will take it day-by-day and finalise the team as the week goes on.”
For his part, Conway has been sidelined since the concluding pool win over Castres in January. “He’s also 50-50,” said van Graan. “He’ll return to training later in the week. Again, he’s a quality player but he hasn’t played in a few weeks. He’s been working so hard with the physio guys and rehab guys, he’s sat into all the meetings over the last two or three weeks. He’s 100 per cent on par with the rugby but we have to get him out on the field and get the ball in his hands.”
With Munster resigned to also being without Keith Earls (knee), Duncan Williams (facial), Tyler Bleyendaal (neck), Chris Farrell (knee), and Jaco Taute (knee), van Graan admitted: “We have so many injuries in the backs so we will give him every opportunity to come back.
“Any injury at this stage is a massive blow. But we had our review and preview this morning. It’s not an excuse for us, we’re a squad, we like challenges. It’s not something that we can change or control but for a guy like Calvin Nash, who did outstandingly well (against Scarlets), and Darren Sweetnam, they are ready to go. I thought Alex Wootton did well. For the big games, you want your experienced guys but it’s also an opportunity for a guy who hasn’t played in those big games to say ‘Pick me, I want the ball and I want to contribute to this team’.”
In addition, centre Scannell is observing the Return to Play protocols, while van Graan confirmed that the unfortunate Tommy O’Donnell - who looked in prime form against the Scarlets - has been ruled out of the quarter-final, thus compounding the long-term injury to fellow openside Chris Cloete (forearm).
“We picked up one or two injuries over the weekend again. Rory Scannell is busy with his return-to-play protocol regarding HIA. Tommy O’Donnell is visiting a specialist tomorrow and hopefully we will know more but he’s definitely not ready for selection at the weekend.
“It’s a recurring injury, he took a huge blow on it. I thought he played a really good game, some of his ball carrying, some of his defence, some of his work-rate off the ball. He’s very disappointed because it’s a huge game coming up but he’s a champion of a man, a fantastic Munster player, Munster man and he always works hard. The team always comes first for him and he had a big opportunity but that’s gone now.”
Toulon underlined their wellbeing for the quarter-finals with an eye-catching, 49-0 thrashing at home to outgoing French champions Clermont on Sunday despite resting frontliners like Guilhem Guirado and Ma’a Nonu.
“Any side that beats Clermont 49-0 are quality,” said van Graan. “Just look at the tries they scored, some of the broken-field attack, their scrum, their maul - some scrums they just went right through the opposition. I’ve coached some of their players and I’ve coached against quite a lot of them on the international stage. They have star players and they put together a fantastic performance on Sunday. We will have to be at our very best to get a result on Saturday.”