Johann van Graan looks to his reserves to complete the Italian job

Johann van Graan is under no illusions about the size of the task facing Munster in Treviso on Friday night, but he will nevertheless dig deep into his squad as the Reds bid to keep pace in the race for a Guinness PRO14 home semi final.

Johann van Graan looks to his reserves to complete the Italian job

Johann van Graan is under no illusions about the size of the task facing Munster in Treviso on Friday night, but he will nevertheless dig deep into his squad as the Reds bid to keep pace in the race for a Guinness PRO14 home semi final.

The Munster head coach was delighted with his side’s 45-21 bonus-point win over in-form Cardiff Blues in Cork on Friday night as the province guaranteed their place in the end of season play offs with two league games to spare.

They remain, however, three points behind Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors, whose position at the top of the table puts them in line for the home semi next month, a second-place finish requiring Munster to play a quarter final.

As Munster begin preparing for the trip to face Benetton this Friday, van Graan did not need reminding of the difficulty of the prospect of playing an Italian side chasing a play-off place of its own. He got one anyway as Kieran Crowley’s side grabbed a draw in Dublin on Saturday night to leave Benetton third in Conference B, two points behind Ulster and a point ahead of Edinburgh.

There will be plenty to play for at Stadio di Monigo this weekend, and van Graan, committed to giving some of his frontline Ireland stars a well-deserved rest ahead of the following Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens, will place his trust in some of the next tier of players to get the job done in Italy.

“We will definitely rotate next weekend. We have a European semi-final coming up and whatever happens, we will be in a play-off in the PRO14. It is important we back our squad. As a coach, it is no good to say it, you have to do it, and a lot of guys will get the opportunity next weekend. We have a really tough assignment coming up in Italy. They have been possibly one of the surprise sides of the season with the quality rugby they are playing.”

Ireland loosehead Dave Kilcoyne has no misgivings about the rotation policy at such a crucial time of the campaign.

“That’s the great thing about Munster,” Kilcoyne said. “I think we have used 53 players this year, you look at the lads that have been involved at the various levels, from the U20s, lads gone over to Boston (with the A side) who will filter back in this week — that’s what Munster is based on.

“It’s about using your squad built up over a number of years so as to to handle these busy and important times around the Heineken Cup and other tough fixtures. We have the luxury that if one guy is rested or injured we have others absolutely chomping at the bit.”

Some of those frontline Ireland internationals may be unable to be considered in any case with Keith Earls pulling up in the pre-Cardiff warm-up due to tightness in leg muscles. Captain Peter O’Mahony was removed with the game won on 77 minutes and while Conor Murray passed a first-half HIA, he was carrying a big bump over his right eye when he was replaced permanently on 63 minutes having scored his side’s fourth try.

“Mentally to recover from last Saturday and then also physically, I just thanked the players for their commitment and their attitude,” van Graan said. “There were a lot of sore bodies throughout the week. That Edinburgh game took a lot out of us, but there are no excuses from our side in terms of the players, they just got stuck in and delivered a really good performance on a Friday night in front of a capacity crowd and I’m very happy.”

As Kilcoyne alluded to, Munster will welcome back some of the A squad to prepare for Friday’s night’s PRO14 game.

Munster A began its Cara Cup campaign in Massachusetts on Saturday with a 38-19 victory over New England Free Jacks in Canton.

They went behind to an early converted try only to hit back with four first-half tries, Alan Tynan, Alex Wootton, Gavin Coombes and captain Duncan Williams the scorers.

Ben Healy kicked two conversions to put Munster A into a 24-7 interval lead and added another five minutes after the restart after Sean O’Connor crossed over.

The home side rallied with two tries midway through the second half, but Munster A closed the deal in the final minute through James McCarthy’s try and James Hart’s conversion. The bulk of the A squad will remain in the USA to face Leinster A on Wednesday.

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