Supporters eager for a glimpse of World Cup winners RG Snyman and Damian de Allende in Munster training gear will have to be patient a little longer.
Both Munster and Leinster returned to training yesterday at their respective bases in Limerick and Dublin ahead of a scheduled resumption of the 2019-20 season on August 22. Yet while both of Munster’s illustrious new signings reported to the High Performance Centre on the University of Limerick campus, the province reported that centre De Allende was carrying a short-term injury while Springbok lock Snyman was part of the first training pod on site at 7am, the early birds getting through their work at such a pace they had already left for home before a photographer could capture them in action.
The injuries to De Allende and wings Keith Earls and Calvin Nash, are understood to be niggles that will not prevent them from the Guinness PRO14 interprovincials that will form the last two rounds of the regular league season on August 22 and 29 at the Aviva Stadium and finalise the semi-final positions for the following week.
Munster, two points behind Conference B leaders Edinburgh and eight points clear of Scarlets, also expect to welcome back Ireland lock/blindside Tadhg Beirne from the fractured ankle he sustained against Saracens last December but any chance of seeing Joey Carbery will rely on his squadmates reaching the play-offs.
Carbery had wrist and ankle surgeries earlier this year and the province said yesterday his rehab process was going well but it would not be until September that the fly-half was expected back in action while there is also a doubt over tighthead prop John Ryan’s prospects for an August return having undergone a minor surgical procedure on a shoulder.
For those not rehabbing there was a new way of doing things at Munster yesterday as they trained in seven-player pods with one assigned coach and a member of the S&C staff following a three-week break with the overseas signings, also including full-back Matt Gallagher, having completed their 14-day quarantine since arriving in Limerick.
While Snyman and fellow Bok De Allende flew directly from their previous clubs in Japan, CJ Stander and Chris Cloete experienced difficulties leaving their native South Africa following the break and although they are back in Limerick they still have to complete their 14-day period of self-isolation.
The rest had already cleared the first hurdle of the return to work protocol, the IRFU having confirmed at the weekend that the first phase of PCR testing, for 140 players and staff across Munster and Leinster conducted last week by Cork-based company Advanced Medical Services, had produced no positive results. Ulster and Connacht players will be tested ahead of their returns next Monday.
On arrival yesterday, each player submitted a Covid-19 questionnaire and underwent the first of daily temperature checks to gain access to the HPC, the protocols being overseen by the centre’s newly-appointed Covid-19 Manager, Munster team manager Niall O’Donovan.
The time spent on site by Munster’s senior squad is strictly regulated, each pod allocated a three-hour window to get its work done with no interaction between the pods. There are also strict hygiene measures regarding the use of gym equipment while showers, dressing rooms, kitchens and video analysis facilities all off-limits. Players arrive, train and then leave.
It is an ever-changing landscape, however, next Monday heralding the further easing of the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions.
Leo Cullen, head coach of defending champions and runaway PRO14 leaders Leinster yesterday said: “We’re in very, very small groups at the moment… That will get built up next week where those eight groups will more than likely become four groups.
“We’re changing in line with the government guidelines as well and the IRFU are in communications there all the time so we’re being very much guided by that, trying to make sure the environment is as safe as possible, all the various different monitoring and screening that needs to take place is going to be important for us so that if something were to happen, we’re able to shut things down quite quickly.
“Baby steps at the moment and as we get closer to playing games then we can start to ramp up a bit, close to what a game is going to look like, to lead into that start date of August 22.
“We do have some time to be slow and gradual but on the flip side it won’t be too long before it comes around as well, so we’re all very excited about that prospect.”