Johann van Graan understands the task in front of his Munster team when Saracens come calling to Thomond Park this Saturday but he is relishing the challenge of a Heineken Champions Cup pool clash against a Test-quality side.
Munster have fallen to the English Premiership and European champions in two of the last three Champions Cup semi-finals and though Saracens are under a cloud following their domestic league points deduction for salary cap breaches, they could potentially arrive in Limerick with a squad containing 17 players who featured at the World Cup, nine of whom played in last month’s final between England and South Africa.
“I enjoy the pressure, it’s why you’re in the game for weeks like this,” van Graan said today.
“It’s a different challenge every week.
The former South Africa assistant coach is a big admirer of the Saracens set-up and added: “Every area is a key area for them. There is a lot of continuity, line-out threats from (Maro) Itoje, George Kruis. Ball-carriers and scrum.
“They have a good kicking game off nine and 10. They really suffocate you and force mistakes. They are really good straight after half-time. They were 12-9 ahead last season (In Coventry) but kept the ball for so many phases, 21 or 22, after the restart and scored a try.
“They’ve built an impressive squad with a great coaching squad and that’s why they’re European champions.”
The Munster head coach insisted his players will be able to handle the size and power that Saracens could bring this weekend but warned that Mark McCall’s entire squad possessed those attributes.
“Physicality is never a problem for Munster teams but Saracens bring 23 players who have physicality. Last season they brought on Vincent Koch, a World Cup winner, Will Skelton and Schalk Burger.”
Munster still have fitness issues at fly-half and loosehead prop with playmakers Joey Carbery (ankle) and Tyler Bleyendaal (neck) sidelined as well as front-rowers Dave Kilcoyne (calf) and Jeremy Loughman (ankle).
“Joey has started a bit of running but he hasn’t trained with the team yet,” van Graan said. “The ankle is improving but we’ll take it by the week and hopefully by the end of the month, we’ll have him back.
“Tyler had some stiffness two weeks ago and after further investigation there is a new injury but with his history (of serious neck injuries) we will treat it conservatively and give him all the time he needs.
“The most important thing is Tyler himself as a man after rugby and hopefully he can get on the field pretty soon.
“Jeremy will not have surgery so in that sense he has had a good week but it will be a few weeks yet for him. Dave Kilcoyne is itching to get running as he hasn’t been involved since the World Cup but it is a bit off for both players.”
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