Doug Howlett backed Munster’s strength in depth after the province’s back-row injury curse struck again ahead of Saturday’s crucial Heineken Cup showdown with Saracens.
After recent injuries to Sean Dougall, Niall Ronan and Tommy O’Donnell, Munster have now lost the services of newcomer CJ Stander, the South African who was set to be added to Rob Penney’s Heineken Cup panel.
After an impressive stint off the bench against Scarlets in Cork nine days ago, Stander scored two tries in his first start on Saturday against Glasgow, only to break a bone in his right hand in the same game. The 23-year-old finished the match and was unaware of the injury until seeing a specialist on Monday, who promptly ruled him out of action until next month.
The former Springbok U20 international, his injured hand bandaged, cut a frustrated figure at the University of Limerick yesterday as he watched Munster training for their Pool A clash with the English Premiership high-fliers. Yet despite the mounting back-row injuries, captain Howlett instead focused on the positives, including the return of James Coughlan, who returned to the starting line-up against Glasgow having recovered much sooner than expected from a torn groin injury he suffered against Ulster on Sept 14.
Coughlan was yesterday added to the Heineken Cup squad as one of two permitted players under competition rules and Howlett said there was just cause for Munster supporters to look on the bright side where the back row was concerned.
“The pleasing thing is we have a quality player in James Coughlan coming back along with Peter O’Mahony and Dave O’Callaghan, who’s had some fantastic games this year for us.
“James is a quality player and is back unexpectedly after being ruled out for three or four months and got through a lot of work last week.”
Howlett was equally determined to smile through second-row issues surrounding the continuing will he play, won’t he play back injury of his predecessor as captain, Paul O’Connell.
“I haven’t spoken to Paul. I saw him this morning and in terms of his injury the line has been he’ll be ready when he is ready. We have been in this situation for a few weeks now with Paul being missing. He has added a lot during training and meetings.”
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