Returning out-half Tyler Bleyendaal will captain Munster in Sunday’s PRO14 encounter against Cheetahs, head coach Johann van Graan confirmed yesterday.
Munster had their first pitch session in South Africa yesterday, having arrived in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
Bleyendaal was among the 27-man travelling squad, having completed his rehabilitation from neck surgery carried out last March. The New Zealander featured for Munster A in the Celtic Cup earlier this month.
“It’s brilliant to have him back,” van Graan said. “He played 30 minutes for the A team against Leinster a few weeks ago and we have been monitoring him the whole time, he is itching to go.
“He will start this weekend and he will also be the captain, something he has done before for Munster. It’s great to have him back in a leadership role and it’s great to have a quality player back who has been out for a really long time.”
Cheetahs are targeting a first competitive victory in three attempts and will want to avenge the 38-0 six-try drubbing in the PRO14 opener in Thomond Park in September.
They registered a first victory of the campaign last week against the Cardiff Blues and took Munster to the wire at home last April, going down 19-17.
“It’s very exciting for us to come to South Africa with a very young squad,” van Graan said. “The Cheetas have been playing very well over the last few weeks and we are looking to use our squad. You need the depth of your squad.”
Sammy Arnold and John Ryan are included, despite being included in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland party for the autumn internationals, though Arnold is following return to play protocols after he was removed from the Glasgow game for a HIA.
“Joe (Schmidt) requested for them to have more game time. They might start or they might come from the bench. With a pretty inexperienced squad, it’s great to have two Ireland players who will go to the international camp after this trip.
“John Ryan has been playing really well over the last three weeks, not only his scrummaging, but his off-the-ball work has been really good. and it’s really great to have him here.”
Van Graan expects to face a very different Cheetahs side to the one overcome easily at Thomond.
“I think it was really tough for the Cheetas in the opening weeks of the season bow as they had to play in two competitions. But they are back to one group now. They don’t really lose in Bloemfontein. Playing there on Sunday afternoon at altitude, it will be a really tough challenge for us.
“They play very well off their maul. They put you under pressure to put in numbers and they take it out wide and they have some real speed out wide, possibly some of the quickest guys in the competition. We’ll have to stop their maul at a source and get numbers out to defend them.”
Billy Holland did not travel to South Africa due to personal reasons.
MUNSTER SQUAD: James Cronin, Jeremy Loughman, Ciaran Parker, John Ryan, Stephen Archer, Kevin O’Byrne, Mike Sherry, Darren O’Shea, Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley, Sean O’Connor, Arno Botha, Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes, Neil Cronin, Alby Mathewson, Duncan Williams, Tyler Bleyendaal, JJ Hanrahan, Bill Johnston, Ian Keatley, Sammy Arnold, Shane Daly, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton, Liam Coombes, Mike Haley.