Stephen Larkham: ‘It could have been a lot worse so there’s a lot of relief’

Australian talks of relief that fire pit incident did not have more serious consequences

Whereas Stuart Lancaster has indicated Leinster may rest their remaining three Lions for Friday's dead rubber against the Dragons in light of Andrew Porter's cruel misfortunate, Stephen Larkham has strongly indicated Munster will take the opposite approach with Tadhg Beirne and Conor Murray for their Rainbow Cup game away to Zebre on the same day.

“I think both those guys need a bit of game time and they’re very keen to get a bit of game time. So we’re not going to go down that route of resting them.”

To play or not to play might seem a tricky balancing act, but Larkham countered: “It depends which way you look at it. I think you can look at it negatively and with concern, or you can look at it the other way and say two things: you’re getting match fitness, you’re playing with your team, which you enjoy doing and you want to do, and it leads to better things down the track as opposed to looking at every game as a potential injury risk.”

Damian de Allende will be absent along with the injured RG Snyman after both players suffered burns to their legs, arms and faces after the weekend's fire pit incident. CJ Stander, who jointly set up a high-end barbeque business this year, and Mike Haley suffered burns to their hands and were in Munster's HPC on Tuesday, but it seems unlikely they will be involved against Zebre after such a frightening episode.

“It’s been tough and some of the boys are still struggling but thankfully they’re not in a lot of pain,” said Larkham. “But there is some significant damage there and it will take a while. It’s a good lesson for them and it will be a good lesson for anyone who reads up on the story. You’ve got to respect things around a fire pit. They’re still reeling at the moment but they’ll bounce back soon enough.”

Far from feeling any disappointment, the coaches’ only emotions are of relief.

“We’ve heard most of the story and it was fairly scary for the boys. It could have been a lot worse so there’s a lot of relief amongst the team at the moment.

“From the coaches’ perspective, it was just an accident. They’re all grown men, responsible men and it just got away from them. We’re just lucky it hasn’t been worse.”

Larkham said it was too early to say whether De Allende and Snyman burns might jeopardise their involvement with the Springboks this summer against the Lions.

“They’ve seen the specialist and will see the specialist again on Friday. At this stage, we’ll be handing them over to the Springboks at some stage over the next month or so depending on how their rehab is going, particularly for RG where he’s in a rehab programme anyway.”

Josh Wycherely and Thomas Ahern are also back in the mix for Friday's game, when a win of any hue will supplant Glasgow atop the northern section of the Rainbow Cup given Munster's superior points difference.

A handsome win with a bonus point would leave Benetton requiring victory against Ospreys on Saturday evening to deny Munster a place in the north v south final on Saturday week in Treviso as they seek their first trophy in a decade.

“We feel that we’ve got a good squad moving forward,” said Larkham. “We think there’s good belief in the team going forward as well. We certainly feel that when we get out on the paddock we can beat any team we come up against and I think that’s the first step towards realising what we want to achieve, which is definitely silverware.

“We are not hiding from that fact. We are all here trying to win something. Whether it is the Rainbow Cup or we have to wait until next year, we feel that we are on the right path at the moment.”

Larkham also agreed with Lancaster in scrapping the captain's challenge, and admitted Stander's decisive challenge against the Cardiff scrumhalf Lloyd Williams for nudging the ball back into a ruck probably shouldn't have been allowed.

“I don’t know whether that’s actually allowed in the captain’s challenge but it does waste a significant amount of time.”

He also agreed with Lancaster in citing the “somewhat successful” trialing of the 50/22 and 22/50 in Super Rugby, whereby kicks from inside halfway which bounce into touch inside the opposition 22 or kicks from inside the 22 which bounce into touch inside the opposition half are rewarded with a lineout to the kicking team.

“I think it encourages the teams to keep two in the backfield which potentially opens up space in the front field. Obviously conditions down there are a little bit different, better and drier. You see a little bit more running rugby but that’s really what law variations should be introduced for, making the game a better spectacle.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times