Johann van Graan has rated fly-half JJ Hanrahan’s chances of facing Racing 92 on Sunday in Paris as 50/50 with the Munster boss preparing to decide between rookie Ben Healy and Rory Scannell as his starting number 10 in the absence of Joey Carbery.
Van Graan was pessimistic about Carbery's fitness today, suggesting it could be months before he'd return to the Munster jersey. That scale of layoff would also rule him out of Andy Farrell's Six Nations plans.
Munster’s European campaign hangs on a knife-edge as they prepare to go to unbeaten Racing’s indoor stadium at La Défense Arena in the French capital and with Carbery ruled out indefinitely following wrist surgery, the province’s hopes of progressing from Heineken Champions Cup group of death Pool 4 could rest on the powers of Hanrahan’s recovery from a hamstring injury the Kerryman sustained on December 28 against Leinster.
Head coach van Graan will not risk Hanrahan in Paris if he is not 100 per cent recovered, with last season’s Ireland Under-20 fly-half Ben Healy facing a potential European debut after just one start in the PRO14 at home to Edinburgh. The alternative could be a switch from inside centre for Scannell, a vastly more experienced campaigner who has filled in at number 10 for Munster but not started at fly-half since Anthony Foley handed him the jersey against Dragons in December 2015.
Yet the South African will hold out as long as possible, until Friday, before ruling Hanrahan out definitively.
"We just trained out there, he did a bit of the team training and the true test will be on Friday,” van Graan said of Hanrahan on Wednesday, “but we'll test him on Friday and if he comes through he'll play on the weekend.
"I won't risk him if the medical team says he's not 100 per cent right. If he does, hopefully he does. If he doesn't, we're going to back Ben and Rory. We'll make a decision on the two of them, we've backed our squad the whole way.
"Hopefully he makes it, but if he doesn't then we've been in this position before and we back the next man in."
Van Graan spoke of his deep disappointment for the stricken Carbery, who has played just 103 minutes for Munster this season having returned from the World Cup with an ankle injury. Carbery, 24, made his comeback off the bench in the PRO14 loss at home to Leinster and then started last Friday’s defeat at Ulster only to suffer wrist ligament damage in Belfast. He seems certain to miss the Six Nations and the Munster boss said: “I'm gutted for Joey as an individual. I care about the players and speaking to him on Monday afternoon when we got the news, obviously it's not nice news for him.
“He worked hard to get back into the position, he played the full 80 for the first time for quite a while and now he is out for a considerable amount of time.
"That's rugby, that's life. He'll be back, he's a class man and a brilliant rugby player. He'll come back stronger, take his time and I can't wait to have him back in the future."
Munster on Wednesday made three changes to their nominated European squad, with another long-term casualty, Ireland lock Tadhg Beirne, being deregistered and replaced by back-rower Gavin Coombes. Also replaced were the departed scrum-half Alby Mathewson with another Ireland U20 star, Craig Casey and Australian back-rower Jed Holloway, who left after a short-term deal in December, with academy hooker Diarmiud Barron.