Donal Lenihan: URC jinxed as Munster endure tough week stranded in South Africa

EPCR have already made it clear that Munster will have to field a team or forfeit their opening game against Wasps on Sunday week
Donal Lenihan: URC jinxed as Munster endure tough week stranded in South Africa

The Munster squad have returned nine more positive PCR tests in South Africa, making 10 players and staff in self-isolation in total

Munster’s week had already started badly with news that yet another quality coach was preparing to flee the nest.

Confirmation last week that Stephen Larkham was returning home to take over at the helm of the Brumbies was understandable but still very disappointing.

On the back of the premature loss of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, followed soon after by Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery, seeing yet another key member of the coaching staff exit at their own behest is a worrying trend.

The Larkham story disappeared into the ether however on the back of Munster’s latest crisis. Having 34 players and 14 staff stranded in Cape Town on the back of the latest Covid outbreak was bad enough. Not being able to board their specially chartered plane along with Scarlets and Zebre that took off for Dublin on Sunday must have been a body blow for everyone concerned.

Once a positive Covid return was posted in the Munster and Cardiff squads it seems there was no option but for both squads to stay put. Having spent nine hours cocooned in Cape Town airport on Saturday when they should have been playing the Blue Bulls in Pretoria must have been excruciating. Since then things have got even worse with further positive cases returned.

This new URC tournament appears jinxed. For the first time since coming on board last season, the four new South African teams were within 48 hours of hosting a game for the first time. The emergence of the Omicron strain put paid to that.

The fact that the tournament now spans five international borders is proving extremely difficult with the challenges posed by Covid. England’s Gallagher Premiership and Top 14 in France has no such travel issues and their domestic leagues have continued with very little disruption. Quite where it leaves the United Rugby Championship remains to be seen.

As for the Heineken Champions Cup, EPCR have already made it clear that Munster will have to field a team or forfeit their opening game against Wasps on Sunday week. With six props and four hookers in quarantine for 10 days, either in South Africa or here in Ireland when they eventually return home, Munster’s options appear limited.

Right now the priority has to be focused on getting the players and staff home. What started out as a marvellous opportunity for several of Munster’s up-and-coming young players to experience the best South African rugby has to offer, on and off the field, has descended into a nightmare.

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