Joey Carbery looks set to come to Munster’s rescue in Belfast on Friday night with the fit-again Ireland fly-half covering the possible absence of JJ Hanrahan with a hamstring injury.
Munster have experienced selection problems at fly-half throughout the season with Carbery returning to the province from the World Cup with an ankle injury and only making his seasonal debut in red off the bench last Saturday in the defeat to Munster.
The only downside was that Carbery replaced Hanrahan sooner in the game than planned after the starting 10 picked up a hamstring issue that will now require a scan.
With Carbery injured and Tyler Bleyendaal still out rehabilitating another neck injury, Hanrahan had been Munster’s only fit frontline fly-half, head coach Johann van Graan also handing academy playmaker Ben Healy, an Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam winner last season his first start at home to Edinburgh in November.
Yet Carbery made a 24-minute comeback at Thomond Park on Saturday night and assistant coach Graham Rowntree on Tuesday said the former Leinster man had come through without any setbacks.
“He is fine, medically, yes,” Rowntree said of Carbery.
As far as I know he is fine. It is good to see him on the field. He is a class operator. It is good to have him back.
“He is crucial, he got some game-time under his belt. Been out for a long time. You can see his frustration. But he has slid straight back in and is training well.
“As far as I know he will be fine for Friday.”
Munster should be able to recall a number of Carbery’s fellow Ireland stars for the trip to Ulster, who beat Connacht last weekend, as the recent string of Guinness PRO14 derbies come to an end with a third and final interprovincial clash of the festive season.
Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway should all be available for the Ravenhill clash having been rested under IRFU player welfare rules for the past two fixtures, a win at Connacht and the home loss to Leinster.
Yet there remains a mounting injury toll and Munster’s squad update on Tuesday made for grim reading with lock Tadhg Beirne, who sustained an ankle injury at Saracens on December 14, set to undergo surgery later this week and flanker Tommy O’Donnell, like Hanrahan, requiring a scan for a hamstring injury sustained against Leinster last Saturday.
Also injured in that 13-6 defeat was hooker Kevin O’Byrne, who underwent a scan for an ankle injury and will commence his rehabilitation with the medical team.
There was some brighter news for van Graan, though, with Ireland loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne (quad contusion) and flanker Chris Cloete (forearm contusion) both available for training this week having failed to finish the Leinster game.
Back-rower Gavin Coombes has completed his return to play protocols following a Head Injury Assessment in the Connacht game and has resumed training while Ireland tighthead John Ryan is set to return to training this week having picked up a calf injury at Saracens.