Munster emerged from their titanic two-legged tussle with Exeter Chiefs relatively unscathed but Johann van Graan admits he will have to juggle his resources now for next Friday’s crunch URC meeting against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm, live on RTÉ) and the ensuing game against Cardiff in Musgrave Park before hosting Toulouse in the Champions Cup quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium.
“We’ll look after the players week-on-week, we’ve still got a lot of bumps and bruises. That was one of the more physical games we’ve been involved in over the years, similar to the other Exeter one at Thomond Park three years ago. We’ll wait on a few guys.
“In terms of national players, we’ll look after them as the weeks go by. We’re on a long run of games, the Dragons game, going to South Africa. We’ll have to look at squad rotation over the coming weeks. We’ve got these two games, Ulster and Cardiff, then Toulouse. There’s a potential semi-final after that, then we have Leinster in the Aviva, and then if you make it to the knock-out games to go. There’s still a long run of games so we’ll look after our squad.”
Indeed, next Friday’s game is Munster’s eighth in an exacting sequence of 10 in succession, including that two-game trek to South Africa, with the potential for up to five more matches in a row after that.
Then again this is where teams want to be and earning a clash with Toulouse is certainly preferable to having an enforced two-week break while watching the quarter-finals from the outside for the third season running.
“We’re delighted to be in the quarter-final and keep this run of games alive. We want to play week-in and week-out and be alive in both competitions, so we’re very happy to be in that quarter-final. A very tough game against Ulster coming up, we need to go and deliver a performance there.
“We haven’t won there for a long time and they haven’t won at Thomond Park in a long time,” Van Graan noted of a fixture that hasn’t had an away win in 10 clashes since Munster beat Ulster in Belfast by 15-14 in October 2016.
“So this is a very tough assignment against a very tough side that lost by one point over two rounds [against Toulouse]. We’re under no illusions as to what we have to do in Belfast on Friday night and it’s a team that’s been playing very good rugby over the last couple of months.
“They’re an all-round side. Their maul is currently one of the very best in the game, they maul the ball exceptionally well. Their kicking game off nine and ten, they vary it so well, they really put you under pressure. Just look at the Toulouse game to see good examples of that
“Someone like [Stuart] McCloskey getting them over the gainline, specifically close to the line. You need an all-round game to beat them, your discipline needs to be top notch, and they’re a side that will be there in the end of the URC, we’ll have to deliver a really good performance on Friday.”
Munster sit fourth, three points behind Ulster in second place, but also have four teams within five points of them down to the Bulls in eighth place.
“That’s what the URC needed, in terms of competition. The South African teams are bringing that. There’s a log-jam from positions two to eight at this stage, so every point you can gather every week is important. There are three round to go, and it’ll be tight until the end.”
Jack O'Sullivan is unavailable for the coming weeks after sustaining a knee injury in the first leg at Sandy Park and joins a casualty list also containing Gavin Coombes (ankle), Dave Kilcoyne (neck), Tadhg Beirne (thigh), Andrew Conway (knee), James French (knee) and RG Snyman (knee).