Munster sweat fitness of three backline stars ahead of play-offs

Munster sweat fitness of three backline stars ahead of play-offs
Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Johann van Graan said Conor Murray could have played against Connacht on Saturday night but was withdrawn from Munster’s matchday squad as a precaution following a pre-game knock at Thomond Park.

Munster, playing with Neil Cronin at scrum-half and handing a senior debut to Ireland Under-20 number nine Craig Casey off the bench in the closing stages, beat their interprovincial rivals 27-14 in Limerick but could not unseat Glasgow Warriors from top spot in Guinness PRO14 Conference A and must face Benetton at home next Saturday in the play-off quarter-finals.

Whether Murray will face the Italians, however, is uncertain, after he left the field nursing what appeared to be a stiff neck as his team-mates finished up their warm-up.

“He literally got a knock with the last breakdown of the warm-up,” head coach van Graan said.

“It happened seven or eight metres away from me. We got the medical team involved and made the decision not to play him.

“He could possibly have played but we decided to err on the side of caution and we’ll give some more info on Monday. It’s just very stiff at this side, that’s all I can say.”

Replays of the incident showed Murray fall backwards from the back of a ruck and hold his nose and face in apparent pain before then getting to his feet and holding his neck.

The Ireland star had missed the first three months of this season with a neck injury but van Graan said Murray had wanted to play on.

“Yeah, he just took a knock. It was a counter-ruck and he took a knock.”

Cronin, van Graan added had found out he was starting “about four minutes before we got on the field”.

“Had to make a quick decision, do you take a risk, decided against it and pulled Conor.

"He wanted to play and I decided not to take a risk. We put Neily on and a fantastic evening for Craig.

"He was just with the squad to experience the first team for the first time. I said ‘Craig, are you ready to go?’

He said: ‘Coach, I’m 100 per cent ready to go’ and he got his first cap for Munster.

Munster will now sweat on three first-choice Ireland backline stars ahead of the play-offs with fly-half Joey Carbery (hamstring) and wing Keith Earls (thigh) also missing last night’s game through injury.

“Well, we’ll give you more info on Monday. It’s straight after the game.

"Joey, we’ll just take it day by day and as soon as he becomes available we’ll let you guys know.

"The same with Earlsy and we rested a few guys tonight as well, so we’ll give you a better update on Monday morning.”

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