Van Graan welcomes back Ireland stars to Munster camp for Leinster decider

‘It would be great to win this game for a whole lot of reasons, and one of them will be CJ’

All the indications are that at least seven of Munster's eight-strong contingent who have returned from Six Nations duty with Ireland will be involved in next Saturday's Guinness Pro14 final at the RDS (kick-off 5pm).

Tadhg Beirne, Craig Casey, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Conor Murray, Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander are all fit and primed for the final – with the likes of Murray, O'Mahony, Farrell and Casey having had relatively light loads in latter weeks.

The one doubt is David Kilcoyne, who departed for a HIA at the end of the first quarter of last Saturday's 32-18 win over England and did not return. He is observing the return to play protocols.

“Firstly [it’s] great to have them back,” admitted head coach Johann van Graan after Tuesday morning’s training session in which all the above took partook. “They had a fantastic win over England so brilliant to have your international players back. We look after each guy individually, some guys have played more than others and we’re slowly building towards that Saturday afternoon final.”


Munster are seeking to win their first trophy since beating Leinster in the 2010-11 Magners League final a decade ago, in what will be their first final since losing to the Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium four seasons ago.

And Van Graan vowed: “We’re going to embrace and enjoy the week.

“It’s the first time in a few years that Munster have been in a final so really looking forward to it, big challenge against the Pro 14 champions of the last few years in their backyard of the RDS, so massive challenge that awaits us but one that we’re looking forward to very much.”

The impending retirement of CJ Stander evidently helped the Irish squad to harness their emotional energy for the visit of England last week, and now his provincial team-mates will want to send him off into the South African sunset with a trophy after nine seasons with Munster

“CJ’s been fantastic for Irish and Munster rugby, he’s played over 150 games for the club and we’ve got a final to look forward to.

“But this is not the end for CJ at Munster, we’ve got a European tie after this week against Toulouse and a whole host of games up until the end of June, so it’s another step in our journey of the season.

“But from CJ’s individual point of view, great for him to get a win in his last Test for Ireland, it was really emotional and a great send off for him. But he came in on Monday and said it’s a massive game for the club, and it’s never been about him it’s always been about the club.

“His character speaks for itself in terms of that and look, it would be great to win this game for a whole lot of reasons, and one of them will be CJ.”

While there is something anti-climactic and dissatisfying about the knock-out stages being compressed into one final so as to accommodate the Rainbow Cup, there’s no disputing Van Graan’s assertion that Munster have earned their place.

“It’s been a really consistent campaign, if you include the European games we’ve won 16 out of 18 games and we’ve given 53 players an opportunity to play, so really glad for the group.

“This was one of our hopes for this season, to get past that home semi-final stage, but it worked out differently, that the team that tops the pool gets to the final.

“The fact that we finished 19 points above Connacht is really satisfying from our point of view and now it’s about the final, and like I said before, a massive challenge against Leinster away at the RDS, but great for the squad that we’ve reached this point in our season.”

That said, after three successive semi-final defeats by Leinster in this competition, Van Graan fully appreciates the task ahead of his team.

“They’re a class outfit. No weaknesses in their team. All across the board they’re a very well-oiled machine.

“I don’t think finals are about trick plays. Every team has something up their sleeve on both sides of the ball, but it’s about doing your basics well.

“Finals are strange things. It’s about the team that handles the pressure the most. So we’ll go in with our basic plan and execute that as well as we can and then adapt on the day, whether that’s to the opponents, the weather, the referee or the scoreboard. We’ll be looking to execute our basics exceptionally well and then adapt on the day.”

Joey Carbery is also expected to come back into the matchday squad, and perhaps start at outhalf, after being rested along with several others for last Friday's 31-17 win over Benetton in Thomond Park.

Furthermore, Kevin O'Byrne has returned to full team training after missing out last weekend due to a chest injury, while Fineen Wycherley (neck), Dan Goggin (hand), Neil Cronin (knee) and RG Snyman (knee) are all still sidelined indefinitely.