Munster anxiously await update on Conor Murray’s neck injury
Johann van Graan will also give an update on Joey Carbery and Keith Earls on Monday
Munster’s Conor Murray left the pitch holding his neck ahead of the Pro14 clash with Connacht. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Johann van Graan will today give a clearer update on the apparent neck injury which Conor Murray sustained in the warm-up before Munster’s Guinness Pro14 win over Connacht on Saturday evening in Thomond Park and forced his late withdrawal from the game.
Knocked backwards onto the ground by what seemed an innocuous counter-ruck in one of the last drills in Munster’s warm-up, a clearly upset Murray left the pitch holding the back of his neck.
Bearing in mind he missed the first three months of the season with a bulging disc which flared up on his summer holidays after he hiccupped while driving, it will be an anxious wait for the player himself and all concerned with the province.
“It happened literally seven or eight feet away from me,” said van Graan after Munster’s 27-14 win. “I got the medical team involved and we made a decision not to play him.”
“He could possibly have played but we decided to err on the side of caution and we’ll give some more info on Monday. It’s just very stiff at this stage. That’s all I can say.”
The Munster head coach will also give an update on Joey Carbery and Keith Earls, who missed the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final defeat by Saracens, but didn’t sound particularly optimistic about either.
Van Graan had retained 11 of that semi-final starting XV against Connacht in the hope of overtaking Glasgow atop Conference A and thereby both avoiding a quarter-final next week while earning a home semi-final three weeks hence.
However, Glasgow’s 34-10 win over Edinburgh means Munster must pitch up again next Saturday when they host Benetton – who qualified for the play-offs for the first time ever with their bonus point win away to Zebre – in the day’s first quarter-final at 3pm in Thomond Park.
Meanwhile, Connacht move on to the day’s second quarter-final, against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 5.35pm) comparatively refreshed and healthy after Andy Friend rested a dozen of the starting lineup which had secured their playoff place by beating Cardiff a fortnight previously.
Should Munster beat Benetton, they will then face Leinster at the RDS on Saturday May 18th in a repeat of last season’s semi-final which they lost 16-15, a week after the Heineken Cup final. Meanwhile, the winners of the Ulster-Connacht tie will be away to Glasgow in the other semi-final on Friday, May 17th in Scotstoun.
The playoffs feature five former champions, and four teams who made the knockout stages of the Champions Cup, although at the same time you’d have got long odds on both Connacht and Benetton making the playoffs at the start of the season.
This, van Graan believes, underlines the heightened competitiveness of the Pro14 this season.
“So many teams on the last day of the season got a shot and after 21 rounds, it was a huge league phase. From our side, through the season, (there were) some ebbs and flows, some very good performances, some average performances but very proud to come away the other side with a home quarter-final. That’s what we deserved and now we’ve got to move forward.”
Ulster’s former Connacht coach, Dan McFarland, rested the entire starting lineup which sealed their home quarter-final against Edinburgh a fortnight previously and yet achieved a satisfying 14-13 over an equally experimental Leinster lineup.
“The important thing is that we know we can win up there,” said Andy Friend. “We have played them twice this year, we know we have beaten them twice this year. It is knockout football, it is another four months into the season since we last played them, there will be a different rugby side but we are a different rugby side. You are always looking for different mental edges if you can but we certainly know we can go up there and win because we have done that.”
There is no Welsh team in the playoffs, although there will be one in next season’s Champions Cup, with the Ospreys set to face the Scarlets in a qualification playoff. This followed the Judgement day double header when the Ospreys beat Cardiff 26-23 in a straight shootout while the Scarlets ultimately scraped into this qualifier after picking up two bonus points in their shock 34-32 defeat by the Dragons thanks to Edinburgh picking up nothing in Glasgow. Like Cardiff, Edinburgh are now consigned to next season’s Challenge Cup.
Conceivably though, both the Ospreys and the Scarlets could qualify without recourse to a play-off should Leinster beat Saracens in this season’s final, and the four Challenge Cup semi-finals secure a passage into next season’s Champions Cup by finishing in the top six in the Premiership and the Top 14.