Rassie Erasmus has denied Warren Gatland's assertion that Conor Murray had suffered a setback in his recovery from a shoulder injury, writes Simon Lewis.
The Munster boss also confirmed that he will look to Ian Keatley to cover both half-back positions in tomorrow's Champions Cup semi-final.
Ireland and Lions scrum-half Murray failed to prove his fitness for Saturday's Aviva Stadium showdown with European champions Saracens and will spend his sixth weekend on the sidelines since injuring his shoulder against Wales in the Six Nations on March 10.
Murray's prolonged recovery has raised concerns for British & Irish Lions head coach Gatland, who on Wednesday named the 28-year-old Munster man in his squad for the summer tour to New Zealand.
Speaking then of his understanding of Murray's situation, Gatland said: “It is a concern. He’s got a nerve issue.
“I spoke to the doctor yesterday. (Murray) was hoping to be fit this week. He had a setback a couple of weeks ago.
“He’s going to need to play before he gets on the plane. That’s going to be important for us.
“I would be reluctant to take someone to New Zealand with a neck injury who hasn’t played particularly.”
Asked about those comments today following Munster's captain's run at the Aviva, Erasmus said: “There was no setback, the setback is that it is taking so long.
“That is a setback, no specific incident happened. I guess (Gatland) meant the setback is that in the beginning it was one week, whereas now we are in week six or seven already. The setback is the time it is taking to heal.
“For me, it is impossible to say when he will be back. Until he has all his strength and power back, with no pain anymore, then he will be able to play. Hopefully, he can get a few games in before the Lions series, we would have hoped he would have got a lot of games in before now. But unfortunately not.”
Erasmus will continue with Duncan Williams in the number nine jersey but has opted not provide specialist cover among his replacements, naming fly-half Keatley, centre Francis Saili and back three player Darren Sweetnam as his substitute backs.
As to his options in the event of Williams getting injured, the director of rugby said: “We have a few plans around that, we will have to shift some guys around in terms of that. In defence and attack, we will have different options to try to work out there. Obviously we are taking a bit of a risk with Ian Keatley on the bench.
“We had to cover our bases when Tomás O'Leary got injured, we had a few setbacks when Abrie Griesel pulled his hamstring, so we've been in a situation before when on the last day the nine actually came through the training session.
“We've trained with Ian Keatley covering nine in certain positions and then on defence, we will try to do other things. We just think that in this game, experience is going to be important and big-match temperament is going to be important, so that's why we made that decision.”
While Munster will welcome back No.8 CJ Stander following his recovery from an ankle injury sustained in the quarter-final win over Toulouse on April 1, Erasmus has found no room in his matchday squad for leading try scorer Ronan O'Mahony nor in-form back rower Jack O'Donoghue, preferring instead to name loan signing Jean Deysel as back row cover in what would be the South African's European debut.
“There's a lot of players that are really unlucky not to make this team,” Erasmus said.
“Ronan O'Mahony is our top try-scorer and he didn't make the team. Jack O'Donoghue has been unbelievable for us and he didn't make the team.
“I think if CJ weren't fit, Jack would have maybe slotted straight into the starting spot and Jean would have stayed on the bench. Then CJ came through the week.
“We're just looking for a specific type of impact player and Jean is covering two or three positions for us, eight and seven specifically and also he can do six as well. It's just the mix up of the team and what we think we'll need later in the game.
“Jack's really unlucky not to make this team, he's had an excellent season.”