Earls and Marshall doubts for Munster’s trip to Ulster
Van Graan bemoans bug spreading through camp ahead of second provincial derby
Munster’s Keith Earls in training in Limerick. The winger has been laid low in recent days with the bug. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Munster hope that a tummy bug that has swept through the camp will have run its course before they meet Ulster in their Pro14 derby game in Belfast.
Coach Johann van Graan is particularly concerned about Keith Earls’s availability. The Ireland winger has been laid low in recent days with the bug and is a doubt for the match at the Kingspan Stadium.
Earls, who has recently returned from a hamstring injury, has been keen to get game-time as the Six Nations Championship approaches and Joe Schmidt begins to set out his squad for the series.
“There is a tummy bug within our squad and it’s taken its toll over the last few weeks and I think it’s a bug over all Ireland in terms of people getting sick so we will reassess,” said van Graan earlier this week.
“I haven’t seen Keith now for three days. He’s been really sick all week and it was our plan to play him in this game and get some momentum off him after his hamstring so we will reassess.”
A loss for Ulster could see Leinster and Scarlets stretch away at the top of Conference B while providing Edinburgh with more encouragement in the chasing pack.
Munster need to keep in sight of Glasgow Warriors and ensure that the Cheetahs do not overtake them in second place in Conference A after January’s back-to-back South African derbies.
The Belfast meeting will also be an opportunity for Irish players eager to impress Schmidt with an uncompromising physical battle in store.
The fitness of former Chiefs hooker Rhys Marshall is also a concern for van Graan. The Kiwi presented to Munster medical staff with a head injury and has been taken out of the playing rota in compliance with return-to-play protocols.
The former junior All Black was also being reassessed this week before the team for Monday’s match is announced on Saturday.
“Rhys showed some symptoms so we just needed to take him out,” added the Munster coach. “So after the session the last time he presented with some symptoms so he came out immediately. Player welfare is number one to us so we will reassess.”
Van Graan is facing just his second derby match, with Munster’s St Stephen’s Day defeat to Leinster in Limerick the first of his career as a head coach.
“I think it’s the same in every country you know when the best players take on each other it is personal, ” said van Graan.
“There is a lot of big collisions and I thought in terms of a spectacle the crowd were treated to a great game of rugby but you don’t want to lose great games, you want to win great games.”