Johann Van Graan looking forward to ‘special’ Leinster test
Centre Farrell close to full fitness and set to return next week against Connacht
Johann van Graan: “This is a special one not only for Irish rugby but for the people of Munster.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
The 25-year-old is almost back to full fitness but has been ruled out of Saturday’s sold-out clash against arch rivals Leinster at Thomond Park.
The year 2018 has been a largely forgettable one for the Tyrone man who suffered a serious knee injury training with Ireland in February just after producing a man of the match display in the Six Nations win over Wales.
That kept him out of action until November but after making his return off the bench against Zebre and then playing 80 minutes against Edinburgh, he was forced to cry off just before the start of the home win over Castres in the Champions Cup.
His hopes of any more game-time in 2018 are over but he will be hoping to hit the ground running when they take on Connacht in Galway next week.
Munster coach Johann van Graan said Farrell and hooker Rhys Marshall, out since October with a hamstring injury, are both close to returning.
“They integrated to a bit of team training today, not full-on as of yet but hopefully they will be back next week. Chris is pretty close to full fitness but he’s not going to be ready for this weekend,” he said.
The squad were given a couple of days off for Christmas but van Graan knows they need to deliver after four defeats in a row to their biggest rivals.
“I think every game is a big game but this is a special one not only for Irish rugby but for the people of Munster. The last time we lost a game in Thomond Park was against Leinster last year in the same fixture.
“They had a very good start to the game and we had a very good second half and there were one or two individual moments that made a difference in that game. I believe it will be the same on the weekend.
“There are two quality sides playing against each other and we’ve got most of our squad available for this game and I believe it will come down to two things.
“One, each individual play will play to the best of his ability for both teams and the team that uses the opportunities and that is something we’d like to improve on.”
Ebbs and flows
Munster go into this clash having not scored a try in either of their last two games when they went down away to Castres in the Champions Cup and to Ulster in Belfast last weekend, but van Graan said there is no added pressure on them for this one.
“I said from the beginning of the season you are going to get ebbs and flows. We spoke about it as a team and that’s why we start every week the same way.
“You lose a game against Castres and one decision or one kick goes over the post and you win, you’d look very differently and you know we don’t have any excuses about the last two weeks. We made quite a few changes against Ulster and I thought we had opportunities to win it there and we got the losing bonus point so I don’t think there is any more pressure.
“I would like to win every single game but unfortunately sport doesn’t work that way, from our side we looked at it and we worked at training sessions on some of the things we think we can improve on and now it’s a big one ahead. If you look backwards too much you can get squashed by what’s in front and there is a pretty big challenge ahead.”
He said he has to plan without ‘one or two’ of his Irish internationals as part of the player welfare programme but they will be going all out to record their first win over Leinster since winning 29-17 on St Stephen’s Day two years ago.