Concern for Tommy O’Donnell as Rassie Erasmus hails world-class Conor Murray

Ankle trouble continues to dog bang-in-form Munster flanker Tommy O’Donnell. He looked to be in serious trouble when hobbling off in the New Year’s Eve win over Connacht and so it came as a pleasant surprise when the Tipperary man reported fit for Saturday’s game against Racing 92 and duly performed like a man inspired.

Concern for Tommy O’Donnell as Rassie Erasmus hails world-class Conor Murray

But he again had to be helped from the pitch in Paris and last night Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus reported that it was O’Donnell’s other ankle that had been hurt and that the injury was causing even greater concern that his original problem.

“Tommy is still the biggest concern,” said Erasmus. “It was his other ankle. Last week he made it but this week it is more serious. I don’t think it’s a long-term thing but I am sure in this turnaround from now until Saturday, he won’t make it. Other guys have just normal knocks. Playing against big French guys you get those bumps. There are one or two I am concerned about. They say they are fine but we will see.”

One of those Erasmus may have in mind is scrum-half Conor Murray, who was substituted with 15 minutes to play in Paris and was spotted with an ice pack pressed to his thigh at UL yesterday. To suggest his absence against Glasgow on Saturday would be a serious blow is a major understatement. Erasmus again spoke of his admiration for his world-class number 9.

“Apart from the normal things that everybody sees, a great pass and a great box kick, I think he’s a very physical player and I didn’t expect that when I came here. Most of those talented guys seem to hold the nice stuff well but he also seems to do the grafting stuff, the tackles, the breakdown ball, carrying and tackling big forwards. The physical side of things definitely impressed me.

“And he’s almost always available, either for training sessions or matches... it’s not like he’s picking his matches like some guys I have coached before who were world-class and the best in their position in the world or contenders; they might be minding themselves a little bit more for their provinces.

“On and off the field for us, he’s a leader and it’s a privilege to coach a guy like him.

“I can only compare Conor with guys I have coached before like Fourie du Preez and those kind of players and I think he’ll be right up there with them. For sheer potential and commitment and professionalism and size and speed and courage, I think he is right at his prime.”

The circumstances of next Saturday’s game could hardly contrast more with the first European meeting of the sides last October, when six days after the passing of Anthony Foley, Munster and the Red Army combined to inflict a 38-17 bonus point hammering on a Glasgow side overcome by the amazing emotion of the occasion. Having also lost to Munster in the PRO12 already this season, the Scots will be thirsting for revenge.

“The stakes are so high that I think it will be Test match rugby and will be more a game decided by tactics and individual decision making,” said Erasmus.

“Both teams will have intensity, both teams will be highly motivated. Both teams will see it as a must-win game. We have met twice already so we know what to expect from one another.

“Tactically, if I look at the weather there on Saturday, it is going to be freezing and snowing and they are playing at home. They are playing on their pitch. The week of Axel’s death was just an emotional week and you can’t really understand why we pitched up or why we played the way we did. You can’t really compare that to a normal week.”

Saturday’s game will, of course, take place on the 4G pitch at Scotstoun but that doesn’t appear to worry Erasmus.

“There’s a little bit of a myth that you can get more injuries but I don’t know if you do or not and we didn’t get them when we were there last time,” he stated.

“It’s not like you’re going to get mud or get wet because it’s a nice, hard pitch even when it’s raining. In one way it suits us because we enjoy playing a fast game. I can’t really say what difference it will make.”

Munster appear to be within touching distance of signing two French-based players, centre Chris Farrell, currently with Grenoble, and scrum-half James Hart, who was on the Racing bench in Paris on Saturday and was the only member of their 23 not to get some game time.

“We are talking to some Irish qualified guys and those two we did talk to,” confirmed Erasmus. “Sometimes just by speculating before anything is done and dusted, it can ruin a guy’s opportunities there. The moment we get it done, or if it gets done, we will make an announcement on Chris and on James.”

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox