Munster will have to plan without Joey Carbery and Dave Kilcoyne for another week as Johann van Graan plans for the “massive challenge” of trying to beat European champions Saracens in their own backyard this Saturday.
Munster head into their Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4 round-four showdown at Allianz Park with a five-point lead over the Londoners but needing to win at least one of their two remaining away games, with a trip to Racing 92 in Paris lying ahead in round five next month.
This weekend’s test will have to be negotiated without two fly-halves and a trio of front-rowers, however, as playmakers Carbery and Tyler Bleyendaal as well as loosehead props Kilcoyne and Jeremy Loughman, and hooker Rhys Marshall were all ruled out of the selection mix by head coach van Graan.
Carbery has not played yet for Munster this season having returned from Ireland’s World Cup campaign with an ankle injury. Bleyendaal is nursing a neck problem while Kilcoyne continues to rehabilitate a calf injury and Loughman recovers from an ankle injury he sustained in round two at home to Racing.
Van Graan did have some positive news, that flanker Chris Cloete has come through his return to play protocols following a concussion.
"Chris Cloete is available again. We're very glad that he's available for selection. He only joined team training yesterday,” the Munster boss said on Tuesday at the province’s High Performance Centre at the University of Limerick.
"We've got quite a few guys injured in certain positions. Dave Kilcoyne is still not available, Jeremy is out for a considerable amount of time. Rhys Marshall also joined that list so another front-row player out at this stage.
"Obviously, Joey and Tyler - two of our 10s. We've lost (scrum-half) Alby (Mathewson) out of the group, which was a big loss from our side. So in terms of that, a lot of guys on the sideline at this stage."
There were no fresh injuries arising from the rain-soaked 10-3 victory over Saracens at Thomond Park last Saturday although Munster will await the outcome of Arno Botha’s disciplinary hearing on Wednesday following his 80th-minute red card for a high forearm fend on Saracens’ Nick Tompkins.
“We took quite a few knocks over the weekend, because of the weather there were more collisions, especially around maul, scrum, breakdowns, especially the tackle, so a lot of guys took knocks to the head, to the shoulders, so a bit of recovery time needed,” van Graan said.
“We foresee that everybody involved will be available and obviously we’ll wait to hear what comes from Arno’s hearing and we’ll make our final choices on Thursday.
“We are playing against the very best team in Europe currently so they’ve got so much quality within their squad and what they do. I think both teams couldn’t really show everything they had on the weekend because you only 40 minutes to do what you wanted with ball in hand, just because of the conditions in the second half.
“So, massive challenge ahead. It was evident when the draw came out that it was going to be a brilliant two weeks in terms of the challenge. A lot of times you can’t say ‘it doesn’t get bigger than this’ but in terms of European rugby, going to London on Saturday afternoon against Saracens, they’re currently the best so looking forward to seeing where we are.”