Munster face test of mettle and resources ahead of European opener against Wasps

Province likely to seek reinforcements from within despite having option to recruit in players

Munster head coach Johann van Graan and  team manager Niall O’Donovan. Photograph:  Bryan Keane/Inpho

Munster head coach Johann van Graan and team manager Niall O’Donovan. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Munster are more likely to seek reinforcements from within, be it academy players, others in the National Talent Squad and All-Ireland League players in the province, than from elsewhere. This follows the tournament rule change by the Heineken Champions Cup organisers, EPCR, to extend all squad registrations until next Wednesday.

Conceivably some of those players in the cohort of 34 who arrived back from South Africa on Wednesday could complete 10 days of quarantining in their “own locations”, be it hotel rooms or home environments, the day before Munster’s opening Heineken Champions Cup game against Wasps and thus be available for that game.

The Scarlets, whose travelling squad to South Africa are quarantining in a Belfast hotel, have been offered assistance by the Ospreys and technically, Munster could seek to sign players on loan from the other three provinces to boost their numbers.

But no approaches have been made to the other provinces and the greater likelihood is that Munster will supplement the 24 registered players who didn’t travel to South Africa (of whom 15 are fit and on site at their HPC base under academy manager Ian Costello) from inside the province.

The 15 players are – *denotes academy player – hookers Declan Moore and Scott Buckley*, props David Kilcoyne and Mark Donnelly*, locks Tadhg Beirne and Eoin O’Connor* and backrows Peter O’Mahony and Daniel Okeke*, scrumhalves Conor Murray and Ethan Coghlan*, outhalf Joey Carbery, centres Damian de Allende and Keith Earls and back three player Andrew Conway.

Winger Conor Phillips currently with the Irish Sevens in Dubai and Chris Farrell might be fit for the Wasps game. But flanker John Hodnett, winger Calvin Nash, prop Roman Salanoa, and RG Snyman are longer-term absentees, and the prognosis for the 23-year-old prop James French, academy lock Paddy Kelly, scrumhalf Rowan Osborne and academy fullback Jonathan Wren is less optimistic.

Clearly, Munster’s biggest need is in the frontrow, where they have only two props and two hookers who are both registered and in training this week. Munster being Munster, they thrive in adversity, and if they somehow cobble together a squad to take on Wasps and do the shirt proud, it will set up some occasion when back to something like full strength six days later against Castres at Thomond Park.

For the next while though, Munster are effectively split into three, between the group of 14 people among their travelling party of 48 who remain in isolation, the 34 quarantining at their own locations, and those in their HPC. Hence their primary concern is not the Wasps match, more the physical and mental wellbeing of the two isolating groups.

“Our priority is first and foremost our people,” said chief executive Ian Flanagan in a 10-minute video posted on their website on Thursday evening. By the same token he acknowledged “far more people are in far more challenging positions than us”.

In thanking so many people, be it the Irish Government, the IRFU and SARU, medical staffs, liaison officers and others, Flanagan highlighted the complex, stressful and ever-changing environment in which Munster have been operating for the last week in securing the return of 34 people and liasing with the remaining 14 before securing their return.

They’ve also thanked their official travel partner, Mark Pinsent and his team at Rugby Travel Ireland, and by all accounts the likes of team manager Niall O’Donovan, head of medics Dr Jamie Kearns and head coach Johann van Graan have been working around the clock.

Cardiff have not been so fortunate. While Dai Young has vowed to ensure they fulfil their opening fixture against Toulouse, their entire travelling party remain stranded in Cape Town after a third attempt to fly to England via Dublin was abandoned yesterday when their landing slot was withdrawn. With six of their 48-strong touring party testing positive and thus obliged to quarantine in a Cape Town hotel, the other 42 were due to leave South Africa on Friday morning.

One of their players, Matthew Morgan, branded the United Rugby Championship a “shambles of a league” on Twitter and labelled the Welsh government “a joke” for not doing more to help them return home before quickly deleting his tweet. Since cancelling the rounds six and seven matches in South Africa a week ago, the URC have made no public comments or statements about the plight of the four travelling parties concerned.

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