Van Graan knows Munster must pluck win out of thin air

Heavy rain and thin air greeted Munster as they arrived in the Highveld yesterday for their PRO14 clash with the Cheetahs this evening.
Van Graan knows Munster must pluck win out of thin air

They left warm sunshine in Cape Town yesterday morning but got a bit of Irish weather on arrival after the 90-minute flight.

It’s expected to be wet again this morning in Bloemfontein and while it should clear by kick-off this evening, a slippery ball will add to the demands of this test.

Only a handful of the Munster side have played at altitude before and CJ Stander, who knows a thing or two about what this is like, said they know it will be tough.

“There is a few of us who would have played in the summer tour with Ireland as well. I would have played a few games there but it never gets easier.

“The way we are doing it, travelling in the day before, is quite good because you are not going to be used to it when you are playing so you have to adapt.”

Munster coach Johann van Graan wants his men to secure home advantage in the PRO14 quarter-finals but he is no stranger to the demands placed on visiting teams at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein and he knows it will take a big performance if they are to become only the second PRO14 side after Glasgow Warriors to escape from the Highveld with a win.

In four of their last five victories, the Cheetahs have snatched victory in the closing few minutes, with the demands of performing in thin air often sucking the life out of the visitors.

But van Graan emphasises it’s not just the climate that wins them games.

“I think their attacking ability is one of their strongest points. They put you under a massive amount of pressure with their width.

Francois Venter is definitely one of their best players. I have been lucky enough to have coached him, he is a quality player. But they have threats all over the park and in Bloemfontein they are always a force.

“They also finish games very strongly. Connacht found that and so too did Cardiff last weekend. It shows they are a very fit team.”

He has made nine changes to the side which secured a bonus point 39-22 win over the Southern Kings after a stuttering start.

Conor Murray, who is on the bench, is the only one of Munster’s frontline players not to start either game here in South Africa.

But, with an eye to Sunday week and Racing 92 in the Champions Cup semi-final, the return of Simon Zebo and Darren Sweetnam is a boost. Zebo has shaken off a hip issue and Sweetnam has recovered from a minor hamstring problem.

James Cronin, who went off early against the Kings with a shoulder stinger, is not included in the matchday squad but is expected to be available for the Racing clash.

Brian Scott, who can play both sides, comes in at loosehead. JJ Hanrahan partners James Hart at half-back.

The Cheetahs need to win this one to keep their hopes of a home quarter-final alive and have gone for broke by starting South African international Johan Goosen.

Goosen is no stranger to Munster but astonished the rugby world by walking out on Racing 92 a year and a half ago to return to South Africa to run a horse stud farm.

But Montpellier owner Mohad Altrad has bought out his contract at Racing 92, with Goosen recently joining the Cheetahs in a bid to get some game-time ahead of a summer move to the south of France.

CHEETAHS:

C Blommetjies; W Small-Smith, F Venter, N Marais, S Maxwane; J Goosen, T Meyer; O Nche, T van Jaarsveld, J Coetzee; C Wegner, R Hugo; P Schoeman, O Mohoje, U Cassiem

Replacements:

J du Toit, C Marais, T Botha, R Bernardo, H Venter, Z Mkhabela, C Swart, AJ Coertzen

MUNSTER:

S Zebo; A Conway, S Arnold, D Goggin, D Sweetnam; JJ Hanrahan, J Hart; B Scott, N Scannell, J Ryan; G Grobler, B Holland; P O’Mahony, J O’Donoghue, R Copeland.

Replacements:

R Marshall, D Kilcoyne, S Archer, D O’Callaghan, C Oliver, C Murray, I Keatley, R Scannell.

Referee:

Mike Adamson (Scotland).

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