By Simon Lewis
Munster’s Guinness PRO14 play-off hopes have been handed a boost by the news Springbok centre Jaco Taute could be set to return from long-term injury for this Saturday’s home quarter-final against Edinburgh.
Taute, 27, has been sidelined for seven months with a knee injury sustained on September 30 against Cardiff Blues, but his appearance at Thomond Park during last Saturday’s 24-24 draw with Ulster as he trained alongside Munster’s matchday replacements as they warmed up was a welcome sight for supporters.
In the absence of both Taute and Irish international Chris Farrell, injured during the Six Nations victory over Wales in late February, Munster head coach Johann van Graan has relied heavily on a midfield combination of Rory Scannell and Sammy Arnold.
Van Graan suggested Scannell and Arnold will remain his first-choice centres heading into the PRO14 knockout rounds but that Taute may be involved against Edinburgh.
“That’s a possibility that he’ll make next week,” the Munster boss said of his fellow South African. “We’re going to back our squad. Obviously guys have done a lot through the season, we’ve a proud home record here and certain guys are maybe in the front seat in terms of being selected for next weekend.
“We as coaches will sit down on Monday and do our planning, look at the opposition, because we didn’t know who we were going to play. We’ll take our time, get to our plan and select a team that can win next Saturday.”
Front-rowers Niall Scannell (AC joint) and John Ryan (back) are not certain of passing fit to face Edinburgh having suffered knocks in the Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Racing 92 eight days ago. Both missed the draw with Ulster and van Graan said of their chances of playing this weekend: “Niall Scannell maybe, not so sure about John Ryan. (Ryan) took a huge knock last week so I guess we’ll just reassess on Monday. At this part of the season you need guys that are 100 per cent ready to play and we won’t risk it. ”
Van Graan also confirmed that in-form South African lock Gerbrandt Grobler would be leaving Munster at the end of this season when his one-year contract expires. Grobler was signed last summer from Racing by Rassie Erasmus but there was controversy ahead of his debut regarding the two-year suspension he served between 2014 and 2016 for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug whilst playing in South Africa.
Munster have already signed Irish second row Tadhg Beirne from Scarlets for next season with Grobler set to join Gloucester in the English Premiership, though van Graan would not confirm nor deny if he had been offered a contract to stay in Ireland.
“All I’d say is that he’s a fantastic team man. I think he’s handled himself tremendously well through a difficult time. He’s part of Munster and always will be part of Munster.
“He’s really bought into the culture and I’m very glad that he played a full 80 minutes and delivered that performance (against Ulster).”
Nor would van Graan comment on reports linking Munster with Leinster fly-half Joey Carbery.
“I wouldn’t want to comment on a lot of speculation. We’ve currently got three fit fly-halves available for selection next weekend and I’ll only focus on that for now.”
The head coach did not include Tyler Bleyendaal in his equation. The Irish-qualified New Zealander started the campaign as first-choice 10 after a first full season injury free in 2016-17 but has managed just two games since a neck injury suffered against Castres last October and he underwent surgery in March ruling him out for the season.
“The medical report is that he’ll be back in three to four months’ time. Obviously with a long-term injury you can have setbacks, or you can come back quicker. We expect him to make a full recovery.
“He’s a massive member of our squad. Since I came he’s only played a few minutes against Cardiff and 50 or 60 against Glasgow so hopefully he’ll make a full recovery. He’s going to become a dad soon as well and he’ll have to deal with that as well and we’d love to have him back on the field.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.