Leinster and Munster count injury toll ahead of quarter-finals
Leo Cullen may risk Joey Carbery and Jack McGrath against Ospreys before Champions Cup
Luke McGrath’s knee injury compounds the issue of what overseas players will play against Saracens in their European Champions Cup quarter-final on Easter Sunday. Photograph: Byran Keane/Inpho
With Europe on his mind Munster coach Johan van Graan outlined on Monday just how stretched his squad has become after the attrition of the Six Nations Championship and Pro 14.
Leinster coach Leo Cullen faces just as many headaches with scrumhalf Luke McGrath’s knee injury compounding the issue of what overseas players to use against Saracens in their European Champions Cup quarter-final on Easter Sunday.
The straightforward fix is McGrath being passed fit to play against the Premiership side and there is some optimism in Leinster that will be the case.
The 25-year-old injured his knee shortly into the second half of the Pro14 victory over Scarlets in February and was replaced in Joe Schmidt’s squad for the Wales game by Ulster’s John Cooney.
According to European Champions Cup competition regulations, Leinster can pick two of their three overseas players in a match-day 23. If McGrath does not make it New Zealand signing Jamison Gibson-Park will come in to scrumhalf meaning Scott Fardy or James Lowe will not play.
Both Fardy and Lowe featured in Leinster’s last Pro 14 league match with Nick McCarthy filling the scrumhalf role.
Seán O’Brien’s return from a hip injury was aborted when the flanker pulled up injured during the first half of his comeback game against Scarlets.
O’Brien was captain for the away trip but had to be withdrawn after 28 minutes after taking what Cullen described as a “bang on the shoulder”. It was the backrower’s first competitive appearance since he played against Exeter in the second of the back-to-back European fixtures in mid-December.
Cullen, however, was upbeat about the injury after the match, implying it was a stinger. Leinster have not yet given a medical update on the Lions flanker.
Josh van der Flier’s anterior cruciate and Robbie Henshaw’s dislocated shoulder will not allow them to be available although Rhys Ruddock appears to be ahead of schedule in his recovery.
The backrower damaged his hamstring in against Exeter in December and the initial fears were that he may miss the rest of the reason.
Johnny Sexton is a less serious consideration, although the triumphant Ireland outhalf has been through the wars with various parts of his body and left Twickenham after suffering a back spasm and passing a HIA.
A bloody-nosed Sexton was replaced by Joey Carbery and came back on to the field before leaving the match early. Sexton had also hurt a gluteal muscle in Ireland’s 37-27 win over Wales, which prevented him from kicking properly.
Given his game load during the Six Nations, Sexton is due for a rest in any event as Leinster meet Ospreys this weekend in the Pro14.
Game time is another issue for Cullen, who may risk players who had less pitch time with Ireland
Carbery played 29 minutes against Italy in Ireland’s first game of the series but had just three minutes against Wales, seven minutes against Scotland and came on towards the end against England to replace Sexton.
Hooker Sean Cronin also came on for Rory Best against England . But Cronin’s time on the pitch from the first match against Italy to the England game ran 12 minutes, 19 minutes, nine minutes and 14 minutes.
Similarly there are management requirements for Jordan Larmour, Andrew Porter, Jack McGrath, who played 68 minutes against Italy and Connacht scrumhalf Kieran Marmion, who were largely bench players throughout the tournament.
Marmion, Ultan Dillane and Bundee Aki, however, will sit out this week with a view of returning for Connacht’s Challenge Cup match against Gloucester the following week. Connacht expect Aki, who is following return to play protocols after a head injury against England, to be available.
In Munster, van Graan knows he won’t have either Keith Earls or Chris Farrell for the quarter-final, which leaves him short on both attacking edge and muscle in the centre.
All the coach could say is that Earls, having one of his best seasons for a long time, would be out for “a lengthy period” following his knee injury against England.
Like Earls, the 6’ 4” 17-stone Farrell, will curse his bad timing having worked his way into the Ireland team with a man of the match performance against Wales. Munster have already lost Chris Cloete and Jaco Taute to injury. .