Munster boss Johann van Graan says he is expecting to see less of Ireland’s frontline stars playing for their provinces this season as the national team steps up preparations for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Munster kick off their pre-season campaign in Cork on Friday against Declan Kidney’s London Irish with head coach van Graan expecting to no more than 30 of his squad available as his international contingent came back later than the bulk of his squad following their successful summer tour to Australia.
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has the national squad together again this week for a short training camp at Carton House in Kildare and with the Grand Slam winners’ World Cup campaign starting in 54 weeks against Scotland in Yokohama on September 22, 2019, van Graan insisted it was up to the provinces to row in behind the Irish cause for the next 12 and a half months.
It’s a World Cup year, so player management from Ireland will be pretty important,” van Graan said. “All credit to Joe and David (Nucifora, the IRFU performance director) and all of the Irish staff, we’ve been through all of that. Obviously Ireland’s important and Munster’s important too, so that communication has been brilliant.
Asked to confirm that player management in a World Cup year meant he expected to see less of Munster’s Irish stars, who include Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Keith Earls, not to mention new signings Tadhg Beirne and Joey Carbery, the South African replied: “Yes. It’s a World Cup year. I think the good thing is that it’s the same for all four provinces.
“You know, they’ve got an extra Test match in November (against Italy in Chicago), they’ve got a Six Nations and they’ve got a preparation for the World Cup at the end of the season so I think the management will be key and the planning from our side will be key.
“Like I said before, the communication has been very good and we know what to plan for and hopefully injuries will be kind to us through the year and we’ve got to produce from our side as well.”
The provinces have long had to make do without their Irish players at the start of the league campaign as the frontline stars delay their returns to first-team action while the Guinness PRO14 schedule continues to a degree throughout international Test windows. Yet van Graan, currently undertaking his first pre-season campaign since succeeding Rassie Erasmus last November, insisted Irish prospects in the upcoming Guinness PRO14 season would not be further harmed by the extra demands of the IRFU player welfare programme in 2018/19.
“I don’t think so. All four (of the PRO14 members’ national) teams are going to the World Cup and I believe every country manages their players differently. It’s been part and parcel of the process since day one that I came so to me it is what it is.
We want all of our guys to be in the Irish team so the more players we can produce for Ireland the better.
“If some of them aren’t available for the Munster squad well, then we’ve just got to develop our players better at Munster.
“So I see it as a win-win on both sides. We might come up short in one or two areas in one or two games because you don’t have guys available but I’d rather take that challenge than have no guys on the Irish team.”
Munster’s selection process for this Friday’s London Irish friendly has been complicated by a number of injury issues, as van Graan explained yesterday.
“We’ve still got quite a few. Tyler (Bleyendaal, neck) is still rehabbing and we’ll give him as much time as possible. Jack O’Donoghue is still rehabbing with a knee (injury), Chris Farrell is still rehabbing with a knee, Liam O’Connor is still rehabbing his knee.
Chris Cloete picked up a groin injury, he’s fully recovered from his arm but he will still be out for quite a bit of time. Conor Oliver dropped a weight on his foot, he’s had surgery so he will be out for 14 weeks.
“Other guys who have had surgery, Jean Kleyn (ankle) is back into training, Rhys Marshall is back into training, Niall Scannell (shoulder) is still busy with his recovery. Stephen Archer, after his (pectoral muscle) operation, he’s still in recovery... So, I might have missed one or two there, but still, a big chunk of guys having to rehab and we’ll see gradually filtering back in over the next few weeks.”
Further to van Graan’s update, Archer is expected to be fit for the league opener at home to Cheetahs on September 1 while Tommy O’Donnell has made a full recovery from a shoulder issue suffered in March and has been training with the squad for the last number of weeks and Sammy Arnold (knee) is reported to be progressing well following a minor knee procedure during the off-season.