Munster are hopeful that inspirational back rower CJ Stander and fellow frontliner Rory Scannell will be fit to face the Champions Cup titleholders at the Aviva Stadium this weekend while wing Darren Sweetnam is progressing through his return to play protocols having failed a Head Injury Assessment in the first minute of the province’s Guinness Pro12 win over Ulster in Limerick last Saturday.
Yet scrum-half Murray remains unlikely to face the English powerhouse in Dublin on Saturday afternoon as he continues his slow recuperation from a stinger injury to his left shoulder suffered during Ireland’s Six Nations loss to Wales in Cardiff on March 10.
“Conor, I think he’s pretty doubtful just because of the speed of his recovery,” Erasmus said yesterday. “It’s six weeks now, and it’s really taking much longer than we thought. Obviously, we’ll give him a chance but I think he’s a pretty big doubt.”
Erasmus said the 27-year-old’s season was far from over but with Murray expected to be named tomorrow as one of Warren Gatland’s three scrum-halves for the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand this summer, the Munster boss said the province had to look to the player’s broader ambitions.
“He’s improving, he’s just slowly improving. I guess with the bigger picture, the Lions series and stuff coming up this season and at his age, he has actually a long future ahead of him We’re just being really careful with the guy. It’s such important games we’re playing now. When a nerve gets a good bang it takes time to heal. I think he will be good to go for the Lions series and hopefully sooner for ourselves.”
Murray has still not taken any meaningful contact in training with Munster, Erasmus describing that as being “the natural next step”.
“It’s just (about) getting all the power back and no pain before we even...he’s done a lot of running, patterns and normal play but he’s never taken contact with us since the Ireland match. That step still has to be part of the process. That’s why it’s a difficult one to predict because he hasn’t taken that step and every week we thought he would do that on a Wednesday or a Thursday before a match but then we get to a Wednesday or Thursday and he’s still got some of the symptoms. He needs power and to be pain-free before he can take contact.
“He is frustrated. He would play for his local club if he can. He would train every day if he can so not being able to play in a quarter-final or semi-final for us is hugely frustrating. He’s also got a level head on his shoulders and knows that next year he might be smiling and saying ‘it was a wise decision, look at me, I’m all good. I can play and nothing is wrong’ whereas to maybe push him now to play would be stupid.”
As for Scannell, whose ankle was injured in the victory over Ulster last Saturday, Erasmus was far more optimistic yesterday than when he referred to the Corkman as a big doubt post-match.
“Rory didn’t even go for a scan, that’s how good he feels, so today wasn’t a massive session because we played on Saturday but I’m really hopeful and I think there’s a good chance of him being available. Overall, on the injury front, Darren Sweetman will follow the return-to-play protocols, I think Rory is pretty good, I think CJ (ankle) is pretty good too.”