Van Graan vouches for form of exiled Zebo

Simon Zebo looked his customary cheerful, ebullient self at the University of Limerick yesterday as Munster prepared for Saturday night’s Guinness Pro14 clash with Zebre at Thomond Park.

Van Graan vouches for form of exiled Zebo

But it must have hurt him deeply to miss Ireland’s victory over France in Paris on Saturday, omitted from the squad ecause of the publicly expressed belief of coach Joe Schmidt that there had been a slump in his form over the past few weeks.

Very few rugby people understood where Schmidt was coming from. And Munster coach Johann van Graan yesterday lauded the huge part played by his exciting full-back in the team’s qualification for a home quarter-final in the European Champions Cup.

“We’ve just had a lot of one-on-ones with the players individually over the last few hours and we had a look at Simon’s performance against Castres,” revealed van Graan.

“You know, he started off so well with all those high bombs and caught every single one of them. I thought his defence was very good and obviously his broken field play.

“If you look at our current backs, there’s a lot of young guys so it will be great to have his leadership around.”

Van Graan was also happy to report Dave Kilcoyne has recovered so well from the knee injury sustained against Castres he may be available for Saturday’s visit of Zebre.

James Cronin is also in good fettle while Dave O’Callaghan and Dan Goggin have come through games with their clubs Dolphin and Young Munster with flying colours.

As for Tyler Bleyendaal, the coach commented: “He’s taking limited contact and we should see him back in the next three to four weeks. I won’t say we’re out of the woods yet. Obviously he’s our number one concern and he’s looking after himself very well and so are the medical team. He’s a vibrant and special player and it’ll be great to have him back later in the competition.”

While most of the focus is on the Six Nations Championship, those left at home invariably regard the forthcoming four-in-a-row matches against Zebre, Cardiff Blues, Glasgow and Edinburgh as the ideal opportunity to make a case for inclusion in the bigger games that loom ahead. It’s a point not lost on van Graan.

“There is a real excitement in the squad.” he agreed. “We have done our planning, we are going to give a lot of guys opportunities in the next four weeks. The winning is very important but we also need to grow as a squad and put pressure on the number ones for the quarter-final coming up.

“Scarlets will also be a big game, Glasgow is coming up, Edinburgh have been fantastic at home, Cardiff away is always tricky, going to South Africa for a two-week tour. At this stage, it is only Zebre (we are focused on), but in terms of squad excitement, the guys can’t wait to go.”

The publicity surrounding Gerbrandt Grobler’s appearances for Munster A in the B & I Cup meant it became bigger news that the province had also linked up with two other South Africans, young players regarded in some quarters as a threat to home-bred talent. Van Graan has a different view on the issue.

“Munster have done their succession planning very, very well. These two young players have been brought in before I came to Munster but it has been a thorough process. No, I don’t believe that it sends out the wrong message. I think the important thing for Munster is to look at the homegrown players first.

“If you look at the current squad, I believe over 70% are homegrown players and it is important we back players from Munster first. Look at the senior squad and if players are identified, you possibly need to bring guys in. I think every team in the world does it. We have a very good culture and history here at Munster and we need to look after that.”

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