Munster boss Johann van Graan was on Monday counting the cost of two highly physical Heineken Champions Cup games as he assessed his reduced selection options for this Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 visit of Glasgow Warriors to Thomond Park.
The Conference A leaders will arrive in Limerick on the back of a bonus-point European win at Cardiff Blues and looking to secure a home and away double over Munster, whom they beat 25-10 at Scotstoun in round two last month.
Yet head coach van Graan will be denied the use of several of his Irish internationals as the provinces adhere to IRFU player welfare rules ahead of the November internationals and an injury list which had some significant additions after the Champions Cup home win over Gloucester last Saturday that sent Munster to the top of Pool 2.
While there is positive news with a return to training this week of Ireland wing Keith Earls following a hamstring problem which kept him out of both European pool games in the past two weeks, Munster lost hooker Rhys Marshall (hamstring), flanker Tommy O’Donnell (ankle) and centre Dan Goggin (knee) during the 36-22 win.
“Very happy with five points if you just look at all the games over the weekend. We said as a squad, there’s a lot of things to work over the weekend but to be in the position we’re in currently in our pool, we’re very happy with that,” van Graan said on Monday.
“Unfortunately, we’ve got what looks like quite a few injuries and with the international break coming up, hopefully we’ll provide quite a few guys to the Irish team as well so we might be a bit thin over the next few weeks.
“Tommy O’Donnell went for an X-ray after the game. The medical teams said they suspected he got a broken leg but he doesn’t. He’s going for a few more scans today. It’s still pretty serious, how the ankle looks now but we’ll have to wait.
“Rhys Marshall went for a scan, Dan Goggin is seeing a specialist tomorrow, Arno Botha’s gone for a scan on his thumb, which is a bit of a surprise, it was swollen up later in the evening.
“Dave O’Callaghan has gone to see a specialist in London, he picked up an injury against Leinster A. And if you add up all the guys that aren’t available (through IRFU player welfare), it’s a significant list.
“On the positive side, Earlsy will get running today and hopefully get back into team training tomorrow or later in the week.”
With Goggin’s knee problem looking serious and Munster already without fellow centres Jaco Taute (knee bruising) and Chris Farrell (cruciate knee ligaments), Munster are down to just two fit senior midfielders in Sammy Arnold and Rory Scannell, while Marshall’s injury comes hot on the heels of losing another frontline hooker in Niall Scannell to an ankle injury last week in training.
“If there was one type of injury you could look into it but there are so many different things and it’s just big hits, it’s collisions, and we are thin in certain positions,” the Munster boss said.
“You need a squad. Last year we used more than 50 guys and I think we’re using certain guys a bit earlier than we would have liked but that’s just the way it is, especially in the loose forward department. That’s where we’re very thin at this stage and the national team comes into play as well and certain guys need to rest as well so it’s definitely the next man to stand up and fight.”
Van Graan said the province may seek approval from the IRFU to sign a hooker or centre as injury cover on a short-term deal but that was far from a straightforward as he experienced in September when bringing in scrum-half Alby Mathewson as cover for Conor Murray.
“We might have a look at it but as we’ve seen with the likes of Alby, the work permit takes quite a bit of time and you’ve got to do your research. You don’t just fly a guy over in a week.
“Look, we’ve got all the support from the IRFU, we’re in constant communication with them and they have been fantastic in that regard.”