Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus still has more questions than answers surrounding the make-up and fitness of his squad as he attempts to prepare his players for Saturday’s Guinness Pro12 opener at Scarlets.
The former Cheetahs and Stormers boss, brought in this summer from the South African Rugby Union to return Munster to Europe’s elite, will embark on his debut campaign with the Irish province this weekend minus his biggest overseas star in Francis Saili — waiting for news from the IRFU over signing cover for the twice-capped All Black centre — and with a number of other injury issues throughout the rest of his playing group.
Tight-head prop Stephen Archer is the latest worry, the Cork man waiting for results expected last night on the severity of a neck problem that will definitely rule the front rower out of this weekend’s trip to Llanelli for a tough opening assignment at Parc y Scarlets.
Erasmus said he hoped Archer’s neck complaint was “not too serious” given he missed the back end of last season with a similar injury and he was satisfied there was adequate cover at tight head in the shape of John Ryan, new signing John Andress and academy prop Brian Scott.
In addition to shoulder-injury victim Saili, expected to be absent until Christmas, Erasmus will have to do without club captain Peter O’Mahony (knee), new centre signing Sammy Arnold (knee), lock Sean McCarthy (knee) and hooker Mike Sherry (back), while there remain serious concerns regarding the future of potential fly-half star Johnny Holland and veteran Australia lock Mark Chisholm.
It was not all doom and gloom for the former Springbok flanker, however, who will have Ireland international forwards Dave Kilcoyne and Donnacha Ryan available for selection for the first time when he names his matchday squad tomorrow at noon, while fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal came through his return to action from a long-term quad injury last weekend with no ill effects.
Bleyendaal’s return to vie with Ian Keatley will not remove the anxiety, however, over Holland’s predicament with a hamstring issue the director of rugby admitted was “very serious” for the player who replaced Keatley as Anthony Foley’s first choice 10 at the end of 2015-16.
“Johnny Holland, we are all anxious to get the final, exactly what his future plan will be,” Erasmus said.
“At that stage where we will particularly know, but we haven’t got the final decision. Unfortunately we haven’t got the green light of how we are exactly going to tackle this.
"I wish I could tell you today but it will probably be in the next day or two. It’s very serious. He has a serious problem there.”
Former Wallaby lock Chisholm, 34, is continuing to recover from a concussion he sustained against the Dragons in March, after which he was stood down for the rest of the season and has still has not been given a return date.
Taking a big-picture view of his squad, Erasmus certainly has more options in the second row than he does at centre with both Saili and Arnold on the sidelines.
He has been linked with a short-term move for fellow South African Jaco Taute, currently with Super Rugby outfit the Stormers in Cape Town but the Munster boss said he would for the moment continue to ask existing squad members to fill the breach with Collie O’Shea, Cian Bohane and Dan Goggin all vying to partner Rory Scannell in midfield this weekend.
“We’re definitely looking for options there to cover Francis until he is fit. Again, the young guys have put up their hand.
“Everyone is mentioning Jaco Taute and he is definitely one of the guys we have discussed with the IRFU but a few things must still happen to make that happen. We’re working closely with them to try and find the right solution but we’re not there yet.
“It must be what Munster want, what the IRFU want and contractually what he’s bound into. But he is one of the guys who we are discussing but there are a lot of boxes that have to be ticked on various levels.”
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