Van Graan backs Healy to rise to task

Van Graan backs Healy to rise to task
Ben Healy on arrival at Thomond Park ahead of Munster’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Saracens at Thomond Park last month. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ben Healy has been primed by Johann van Graan to make the most of “an opportunity to do something great” as Munster wait on the fitness of JJ Hanrahan ahead of their must-win European date with Racing 92 this Sunday.

With a provincial pool of playmakers currently being bled dry by injuries, the20-year-old from Tipperary, who was captaining Glenstal Abbey to a Munster Senior Schools Cup success less than two years ago, appears to be the next out-half in line after head coach van Graan had to stomach another blow in the form of Joey Carbery’s wrist injury.

With Tyler Bleyendaal still rehabilitating a neck injury and Hanrahan sidelined by a hamstring problem sustained on December 28, the return of Carbery from an ankle injury the same night off the bench against Leinster was akin to a one-man cavalry coming to the rescue.

It was painfully shortlived, however, the 24-year-old returning to the treatment table for another stint in a frustrating run of injuries since leaving Leinster for more game time, just 103 minutes into his comeback.

With Munster needing victory in Paris on Sunday to keep alive their hopes of reaching the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals into the final round of pool games the following weekend, van Graan would dearly wishfor a speedy recovery from Hanrahan, whose chances of making the flight to the French capital he rated yesterday at just 50/50.

He could also switch experienced European campaigner Rory Scannell from inside centre to fly-half with Healy getting a shot at his European debut from the bench.

Either way, the head coach will not risk Hanrahan if he is anything less than 100% fit and with two days before a decision will have to be made on Friday, it was yesterday confirmed that the Kerryman was not yet at that point.

“He’s in good form, he was out on the pitch for a while today, did a bit of team training, not at 100% yet,” van Graan said. “JJ is an experienced 10 and an important member of our squad. He has been the in-form 10 for Munster this season.

“We will put him through a fitness test on Friday and if he comes through that, we’ll put him into training and if he comes through training, we’ll select him. If he doesn’t come through that, then we’re going to go with Ben and Rory. We’ll make our decision then as to what way we go.

“We’ve been in this position before and it’s next man in. We will back JJ to be ready, I’m definitely not going to risk him because of the importance of this game. We’re really hopeful that he will be ready and if not, really excited to see Ben and Rory.”

With Scannell an important cog at second receiver in the new and attacking gameplan being introduced by senior coach Stephen Larkham, there may be a reluctance to further disrupt the Munster backline, though van Graan has more options in midfield than he does at out-half.

Reading between the lines after training in Limerick yesterday, however, the South African certainly implied that it would be Healy getting the nod for just a second senior start.

The first came in November against Edinburgh in the PRO14 in Cork and ended in a rare home defeat but Healy, who can comfortably kick from either foot, overcame an early wobble to return a 100% kicking record and put in an assured performance.

Leading Munster into the white heat of European cup rugby in France, though, is a completely different ball game, as van Graan recognised the huge step up in class required by the academy player who helped the Ireland U20s to last season’s Six Nations Grand Slam.

The head coach backed Healy to take the great leap forward and make a name for himself in the famous Munster number 10 jersey.

“I think that’s what sport is about. If he gets that opportunity, that’s just the way sport works. It’s an opportunity for somebody to do something great.

“He has grown within the squad, he’s been with the European squad for the last number of weeks.

“We took him to the Ospreys game (in round one) to get the feel of the squad and he was in the warm-up in every game, (then starting) the game against Edinburgh.

He was in the Connacht 23 but JJ just played so well and it was tight in the back end so we didn’t put him on. So he has been part of the squad and if he does get selected he willhopefully perform on Sunday afternoon.”

Asked to compare the attributes of Scannell and Healy at out-half for Sunday’s game on a hard and fast 4G surface under the roof at La Defense Arena, van Graan added: “I think both are different types of players. I don’t want to speculate on it too much because hopefully we’ll have JJ.

I think Ben’s strong point is his kicking game and his game management. We play indoors in a totally different environment than we’ve got currently out here. The ball does travel a bit further, the ball is drier so that brings it into it.

“Rory is a left-footer and also he’s played 10 before, he knows the squad very well and he’s been in and around this team for a very long time. Two totally different players and we’ll make our decisions, if we have to, based on what’s the best for the team on Sunday.”

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