Munster bracing for South Africa jaunt just before Champions Cup

Province to play Bulls and Lions, then comes trip to Wasps and Castres at home

 Munster Head Coach Johann Van Graan: ‘For me personally I never thought that Munster would play the Bulls.’

Munster Head Coach Johann Van Graan: ‘For me personally I never thought that Munster would play the Bulls.’

 

Up until last Friday Munster had been expected to play the Bulls and the Lions in Italy, with plans at an advanced stage by the United Rugby Championship (URC) organisers for the South African sides to play their games there, before the latter were granted permission to host these matches on home soil.

All four South African sides – the Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls – were to play their rounds six and seven games in European locations. But following South Africa’s removal from the red list last week they will host teams from the northern hemisphere on home soil.

Undoubtedly this decision is good for the integrity of the competition, as it should ensure the South African quartet will play all their nine home games on home soil.

Two-game trek

However it presents Munster with some tricky problems. After next Saturday’s round five game away to the Ospreys, they have a month break during the November Test window before embarking upon that two-game trek to South Africa when facing the Bulls and the Lions. Munster then immediately face into their opening brace of Heineken Champions Cup games away to Wasps on Sunday December 12th and at home to Castres six days later.

Munster will be mindful that after their two-game mini tour to South Africa in April 2018 against the Kings and the Cheetahs, they were caught cold a week later in the opening 30 minutes of their European semi-final against Racing in Bordeaux; Johann van Graan’s first season as head coach.

Following last Saturday’s 20-18 win over Connacht, van Graan said: “We as coaches said we’d get through tonight’s game and then we’ll re-adjust our planning because if you look at the facts, Argentina play Ireland on the Sunday, we play the Bulls at Loftus at altitude the following Saturday, we play the next Saturday at the Lions and then we’ve got to come back in some shape or form back into Ireland, recover and then go to Wasps.

“From what I learned in the first year here that’s very tough to do. So we’ll be creative, we’ll give it a lot of thought . . . do our planning and I’m not going to shy away from it, we are the only Irish team that have to do it. That will be a challenge.

“But you know what Covid taught us is that change will be change. That’s the cards given to us and we’re going to do our very best to plan accordingly and enjoy it and embrace it.”

Test window

At face value, it seems unlikely that any of their frontliners who are involved in Ireland’s November series will be taken to South Africa. But against that the absence of URC games during the autumnal Test window the rest of the squad won’t have p1ayed in four weeks.

It could not have been designed more disadvantageously for Munster, even if on a personal level the two matches in Loftus Versfeld and Ellis Park might hold some appeal for their South African contingent, including van Graan himself.

“For me personally I never thought that Munster would play the Bulls. It’s an amazing place to go and play rugby, at Loftus and then Ellis Park, one of the true amphitheatres of world rugby. So we’re going to embrace it and really look forward to it but before then pay our respects to the Ospreys. That will be a tough one next Saturday evening.”

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