Munster have not ruled out signing short-term cover after losing senior loosehead props Dave Kilcoyne and Jeremy Loughman to injury for up to eight weeks.
Ireland prop Kilcoyne underwent ankle surgery on Wednesday following a setback in his rehabilitation from an injury he sustained against Leinster on August 22 and is likely to be missing until mid-to-late December, by which time Munster will have played two of their Heineken Champions Cup pool rounds.
Loughman suffered a shoulder injury in training last week and faces six weeks on the sidelines while another senior loosehead Liam O’Connor is a month away from his return from a calf injury.
That leaves James Cronin as the only fit senior player in that front-row position, with head coach Johann van Graan handing a Munster debut off the bench to academy prop Josh Wycherley in last Monday night’s 38-27 Guinness PRO14 victory over Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park.
Wycherley, the 21-year-old younger brother of Munster senior lock Fineen and a member of the 2019 Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam-winning team, impressed forwards coach Graham Rowntree on Monday night but the option to seek more experienced cover short-term has not been ruled out.
“It’s not out of the question,” Rowntree, the former Leicester, England, and Lions loosehead, said on Thursday ahead of Sunday’s PRO14 visit to Dragons at Rodney Parade.
“But Josh’s performance was everything we expected. It is not out of the question that we may need a bit more cover.”
O’Connor, who missed most of 2018 with a long-term injury, has not played since last December against Saracens in Europe and of his latest setback, Rowntree said: “Yeah, about another month or so. He’s coming on nicely.
“It’s not ideal when this happens, but this is the game. It’s not out of the question we will look for some outside cover.” There was more praise from Rowntree for Wycherley’s senior debut performance for the final 11 minutes of the bonus-point win over Cardiff.
“He has patiently waited his turn, has Josh. A thorough professional, he’s very fit, like his brother. The pair of them are a joy to coach. And he took his opportunity and he did well for us. He’d have wanted longer game-time, he’d have wanted longer but we put him on at the appropriate time and he didn’t let us down.”
Rowntree also reacted to Munster’s Champions Cup draw, which in a new, one-off format for this season pits the province against old foes Clermont Auvergne and one of the Englishman’s former clubs Harlequins, where he was forwards coach between 2016 and 18.
“Proper teams them, aren’t they? It’s great for us. I know Harlequins, having worked there. Some great people there. Some rich history, a great club. And Clermont, giants of the game.
“I have had some proper dingdongs with them as a player over the years. They have a brilliant stadium. These lads are lucky, they are playing in a sport where you are playing in great stadiums.
"We may not have a crowd there but it’s still an impressive place to go and play. It’s a great draw, it’s a challenge, it’s the top level and we are looking forward to that already.”