Stephen Larkham says he knew all about how special the Irish interprovincial games are long before he arrived on these shores, and while the provinces are set to be shorn of their World Cup players for most of the Christmas period, he’s looking forward to the derby games.
The biggest casualty of the IRFU mandate is, arguably, the biggest game in the PRO14 calendar when Munster take on Leinster. Larkham said there is no issue with all the frontline players missing a game with such a billing.
“That’s the agreement that we’ve come to with the IRFU and we are comfortable for it. We’ve known about it for a long time. But in this block of three games we have to rest certain players for two consecutive weeks.
“It really depends on the number of games they played in the World Cup as well and what their injury profile has been since the world cup, so it’s not necessarily ruling everyone out. But two consecutive weeks for the majority of those players.”
Larkham has already experienced one derby when Munster defeated Ulster 22-16 last month and he’s looking forward to renewing acquaintances with fellow Canberra native Andy Friend when they take on Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday, having worked with him with the Brumbies.
“He was one of my first coaches when I was a younger player, he was a representative coach that came and did a little bit of work with a team that I was involved with.
“Then, my first coaching gig was with Friendy. I’ve got a lot of respect for Friendy, I think he’s doing a good job. He’s changed his coaching style a little bit this year, but he’s still getting results.”
The World Cup has ensured it has been a disruptive first season with Munster for Larkham.
It is a different challenge there is no doubt about that. We haven’t had everyone from the start, which is what I’d be used to. We had a really good run with the guys that didn’t go to the World Cup and there was a fair bit of learning involved with those guys because everything was new.
“So, we have sort of been up and down a little bit. There is the period when we didn’t have the World Cup players where we didn’t have games either, so it was like a mini pre-season, it was a pretty long pre-season where we could implement some stuff over a longer term ... when the international players came back we could finally combine as the bigger squad, we have had to go through that process again, but at the same time we had to focus on winning the game at the weekend.
“It has been a slower process to get everything in. We have made big improvements with the squad over the last two weeks. The boys get a bit of a rest now but we’ll continue that improvement when the players come back from their break.”
Meanwhile, Larkham says it will be a number of weeks before they are able to get a clear picture on when Tadhg Beirne will return after breaking his ankle in the 15-6 loss to Saracens at the weekend.
“It’s an operation that we need to see the report from. Then we also need to see how he progresses over the first couple of weeks in terms of his rehab. We’ll be pushing into the months, yeah. We’re certainly more than one month. An operation will take generally at least four weeks, we don’t have a time frame at this stage but we are sort of guessing it is going to be a longer term.”
Munster are also waiting to assess the extent of the groin injury which forced captain Peter O’Mahony to withdraw before the Saracens match on Saturday.
“Peter was going to be rested this week anyway, so he’s going to be assessed later in the week, into early next week and we’ll be a little bit clearer as to how long he’s going to be out for.”
But he said Joey Carbery is getting closer to a return to play and while he won’t be available for the Connacht match in Galway on Saturday, he is not far away from areturn from a troublesome ankle injury.
“We’re fingers crossed every week, hoping that he’s right to play. He’s not fully training with us this week, but the good news is that everything has progressed and we will see him on the training park this week.
“Again, it depends how he pulls up from those training sessions before we can assess whether he’s available to play,” added the Australian.