Leamy loss forces McGahan to dig deep

MUNSTER coach Tony McGahan will today dig deeper into his pool of young talent to find a Heineken Cup squad replacement for Denis Leamy, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a hip injury.

Irish international Leamy will go under the knife this week following an assessment by a London-based specialist and is set for a prolonged period on the sidelines.

With Leamy and Tommy O’Donnell forced out for a long spell, and with resources further stretched by doubts about Niall Ronan’s availability for this Saturday’s clash with Castres, McGahan will be forced to test the depth of his squad.

There were concerns about the manner in which Munster struggled to secure a RaboDirect Pro12 bonus point victory at Thomond Park on Saturday night, but McGahan was left to assess more than just the performance in the aftermath.

McGahan was aware of Leamy’s position going into the match; he didn’t bargain that Ronan would be added to the casualty list, although the coach is hopeful that a “jarred” knee muscle injury won’t preclude the in-form number seven from lining out against the French side this weekend.

Munster, with Alan Quinlan retired and David Wallace a long-term absentee, are fast running out of experienced back row options, although McGahan will have been pleased by the way Donnacha Ryan adapted when forced to move from the second row and by a man-of-the match performance from one of the unsung heroes of this squad, James Coughlan.

Overall, however, this was far from an accomplished Munster performance, although McGahan would prefer to give credit for that to a very competitive Treviso side seeking their fourth RaboDirect victory away from home.

They made Munster sweat for the bonus point; it took a brilliant individual try from Keith Earls and ultimately the vast experience within the squad to dampen Treviso’s enthusiasm and put them to the sword.

Still, McGahan figured it was more than just a useful exercise. If he had reservations about parts of Munster’s set-piece performance (lost lineouts and concession of penalties at scrum time), he was pleased with the way his team created scoring opportunities. While the fans in a disappointingly low 8,500 attendance appeared frustrated by lost chances, the coach saw it somewhat differently. He said: “We made some progress with where we are and we hadn’t made too many opportunities over the past four or five weeks so to get to this stage is great; we just need to go forward, but it’s work in progress.

“I’d have been concerned this week if we didn’t have a work rate or intensity about our play, we were pushing ourselves through, there were good support lines there, which is a huge plus, we just need that last bit of the puzzle and there was evidence of that tonight, we just didn’t get that last pass to stick.”

It was all-square at the midway point of the opening half, with Ronan O’Gara responding to an early penalty by Kristopher Burton, but Munster should possibly have been ahead, forging chances through Simon Zebo, Damien Varley while also being denied a try from Ronan when Conor Murray’s pass was called forward.

Ronan was not to be denied when he scored in the 24th minute, again the product of a break from Murray but this time with intervention from Mafi. O’Gara converted for a 10-3 lead. Moments after the injured Ronan left the pitch, Munster, looking pedestrian, conceded a second penalty to Burton. The visiting out-half then smashed a 40th-minute penalty attempt against an upright.

Serious words were required at the interval but whatever was said didn’t appear to work. It took a moment of inspirational genius from Earls to give Munster breathing space, with a bit of help from O’Gara’s perfectly timed short pass and the out-half converted for a 17-6 lead.

Treviso hit back through Manoa Vosawai, the unconverted try coming off a lineout, and Munster lost a chance to score when Johne Murphy knocked on a couple of minutes later. At least they finished with a flourish following tries from Coughlan, converted by O’Gara, and from winger Zebo to give Munster the bonus point in the 76th minute.

MUNSTER: D Hurley; J Murphy, K Earls, L Mafi, S Zebo; R O’Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D Ryan, P O’Connell (capt), P O’Mahony, N Ronan, J Coughlan.

Replacements: D O’Callaghan for Ronan (34), T O’Leary for Murray, M Horan for Du Preez, D Barnes for Murphy (all 61), S Archer for Botha), D Fogarty for Varley (both 65), B Holland for O’Connell, I Keatley for O’Gara (both 75).

TREVISO: L McLean, L Nitoglia, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, B Williams; K Burton, T Botes; M Rizzo, F Sbaraglini, L Cittadini; A Pavanello (capt), C Van Zyl; G Padrò, A Zanni, M Vosawai.

Replacements: E Gori for Burton (56), D Vidal for Sbaraglini, V Bernabo for Pavanello (both 63), E Pavanello for Van Zyl, S Picone for Vosawai (both 69), A Di Bernardo for Nitoglia (73), I F Rouyet (75).

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

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