By Simon Lewis
Munster Rugby are remaining tight-lipped over reports in South Africa that Bulls centre Dries Swanepoel is set to sign a short-term deal with the province.
A move for Swanepoel, a former Junior Springbok who plays primarily at inside centre, would make perfect sense given Munster’s midfield issues with Jaco Taute and Chris Farrell sidelined long-term and a backline similarly ravaged by injuries.
Fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal and Grand Slam-winning Ireland wing Keith Earls are also out of this Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulon at Thomond Park while back-three stars Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway are also rated only 50/50 chances of passing fit to face the French side.
Furthermore, if centre Rory Scannell is be considered he must this week complete return to play protocols following his failure to return from a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) during the second half of Munster’s PRO14 win over Scarlets last Saturday.
Any move for Swanepoel, 25, would come too late for the European showdown this weekend with squads for the quarter-finals finalised last week under competition rules but the arrival of a physical centre with Super Rugby experience would give the Munster backline a much-needed boost for the run-in to the Guinness PRO14 play-offs.
Munster depart for a 12-day, two-game tour of South Africa on Monday, where they will play PRO14 games against the Southern Kings in George on Saturday, April 7 and then Conference A play-off rivals the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein the following Friday.
Johann van Graan’s side lie second in their Conference, six points clear of the Cheetahs in third with three games remaining. Munster’s final game of the regular season is at home to interprovincial rivals Ulster at Thomond Park on the last weekend in April.
With Glasgow Warriors already qualified for the play-offs, 12 points clear at the top of Conference A and heading for a home semi-final, Munster need to stay clear of the Cheetahs if they are to secure a home berth in the semi-final qualifiers as the second-placed conference finisher.
A third-place finish would send them on the road for a semi-final qualifier against the runner-up in Conference B, currently Scarlets.