Van Graan happy as Coombes accelerates Munster’s West Cork rally

There’s no keeping West Cork rugby players out of the news these days.
Van Graan happy as Coombes accelerates Munster’s West Cork rally

Munster’s Arno Botha is tackled by Scarlets’ Angus O’Brien during the Guinness PRO14 clash at Thomond Park. Picture: Diarmuid Greene
Munster’s Arno Botha is tackled by Scarlets’ Angus O’Brien during the Guinness PRO14 clash at Thomond Park. Picture: Diarmuid Greene

Munster 29 Scarlets 10

There’s no keeping West Cork rugby players out of the news these days. When Southern Kings took a drubbing from Munster at Musgrave Park, debutant flanker John Hodnett, 22, highlighted a superb man of the match performance with a spectacular try.

A week later, Darren Sweetnam, the West Corkman who started it all, returned from injury to score one of the four bonus-winning tries in the defeat of Zebre in Milan. And on Saturday at Thomond Park, another 22-year-old back-rower Gavin Coombes came late to the visit of Scarlets and used his strength and skill to produce two tries in the last five minutes to eke out another bonus victory despite the best efforts of Storm Jorge.

It doesn’t end there. Another 22-year-old, Fineen Wycherley, has been helping to maintain the highest standards in Munster’s second-row in the long term absence of Tadhg Beirne and Jean Kleyn.

“I am very pleased with our young players coming through as I am with the whole group over the past few weeks,” enthused head coach Johann van Graan.

“We’ve got some very good young back-rowers, Coombsie, Jack O’Donoghue, John Hodnett, Jack O’Sullivan. Getting game time for those guys is important. I said to Coombsie at the start of this block, I’m going to play you at lock even though you’re a loose forward, you’re going to fulfil that role, and he did so really well. An excellent performance.”

Munster now have at least a week’s ‘holiday’ and indeed maybe longer as we await the implications of the coronavirus.

It has already been decided that any postponed PRO14 game will be declared a nil-all draw and Munster’s next two are against Italian side Benetton Treviso (away on March 21st and at Musgrave Park on March 27th). Right now it is difficult to see either going ahead which could leave Munster with a mere four points instead of the ten they could reasonably expect from those fixtures.

Van Graan is remaining philosophical: “They will go on holiday and once they’re back, we’ll just go with what PRO14 and Ireland decide.

“It’s not frustrating at all, it’s just the way life works and I guess at this stage life is more important than rugby.”

For now, the South African has good reason to be delighted with a maximum return of 15 points from the side’s last three outings and for the way they coped with what many would have considered unplayable conditions at Thomond Park on Saturday, the five-pointer moving Munster to within two points of Conference B leaders Edinburgh.

Scorer for Munster: Tries J O’Sullivan, B Holland, G Coombes (2): JJ Hanrahan one penalty, 3 cons.

Scorers for Scarlets Try, J Sebastian; pen, con A O’Brien.

MUNSTER: M Haley; C Nash, C Farrell, D Goggin, D Sweetnam; JJ Hanrahan, C Casey; J Cronin K O’Byrne, S Archer, F Wycherley, B Holland capt, A Botha, C Cloete, J O’Sullivan.

Replacements: J Loughman and J Ryan for Cronin and Archer 57; J Hodnett for Cloete 60; T O’Donnell for O’Sullivan 66; R Scannell for Goggin 69; G Coombes for Wycherley 68; N McCarthy for Casey 74; D Barron for O’Byrne 74;

SCARLETS: A O’Brien; C Baldwin, P Asquith, S Hughes capt, S Evans; D Jones, J Evans; P Price, T Davies, W Kruger, L Rawlins, S Lousi, A Shingler, J Macleod, U Casseim.

Replacements: I Phillips, Dylan Evans, J Sebastian, T Ratuva, S Cummins, D Davis, D Blacker, R Conbeer.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland).

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