Johann van Graan has put his Munster players on alert that a Guinness PRO14 semi-final with Leinster in two weeks is no foregone conclusion.
With the bookmakers making his side odds-on favourites to reach the last four for the second season in a row by beating Edinburgh at Thomond Park this Saturday in their PRO14 semi-final qualifier, head coach van Graan has reminded his players of the threat posed this weekend by one of the league’s form sides of 2018.
Under Richard Cockerill’s charge for the first time this season Edinburgh have become the dark horses of the competition, winning eight of their last nine games to pip Ulster for third place in Conference B and set up Saturday’s quarter-final in Limerick.
Conference A runaway winners Glasgow were beaten in last Saturday’s final round of league games and one of their victims along the way was van Graan’s Munster, in a rearranged fixture on March 16 at Murrayfield when the home side ran out 12-6 winners.
And with former Leicester director of rugby Cockerill having already tasted European success at Thomond Park, steering the Tigers to a Champions Cup pool win there in December 2015, the Munster boss is guarding against any possible hint of a lack of focus in his squad with Leinster waiting in the wings as semi-final hosts.
“The fact we lost the game (to Edinburgh) put our guys in the right state of mind,” van Graan said yesterday as the squad reconvened in Limerick after last Saturday’s 24-24 league draw with Ulster.
“It was a titanic battle on that Friday evening. It was a tactical battle. They did one or two things in the maul which surprised quite a few teams.
“You only had to watch the weekend’s game (against Glasgow), their poaching threat and the way they attack the breakdown is something that only the Scarlets match in this competition. They have got a very interesting kicking game. Their kicking off nine is very good. It surprised a few teams.
“You need to be clever in order to beat them. They have got a very simplistic but very good game plan. They are well drilled and have got a lot of belief. I have seen before when teams get belief and get on a roll it’s difficult to stop them. We as a squad said this morning we will have to be on our best to beat them.”
Munster will be hoping hooker Niall Scannell comes through today’s training session at the University of Limerick, his first since a knock to an AC joint during the Champions Cup semi-final loss to Racing 92 nine days ago, a game which has cost van Graan the services of tighthead prop John Ryan.
Ryan injured his back in Bordeaux and was ruled out for this weekend while van Graan also revealed scrum-half Duncan Williams, who made his comeback from a facial injury against Ulster, will have to go through HIA protocols.
Also returning to contact training today will be centre Jaco Taute, who took part in Munster’s warm-up alongside the replacements at the weekend having rehabbed a long-term knee injury sustained against Cardiff Blues on September 30.
There will be no shortage of players putting their hand up for selection this week having felt they pressed their claims in the Ulster game while frontline players were rested, not least lock Gerbrandt Grobler. Yet van Graan said: “It’s all about balance.
“When you get to this part of the season, you have to look at what guys did all over the season. But you have also got to take current form into consideration. Also the way that we want to play, that forms a part of the thinking process.
“Gerbrandt was fantastic over the weekend. Although we already had a chat, he had one or two offloads that he could have made better decisions. And one kick-off that he lost. But in terms of actions in the game he was the forward who had by far the most special stuff. That one-hand lift in the lineout. That last carry (having thwarted Ulster’s push for victory). The more he plays the better he will get.
“Obviously Billy Holland and Jean Kleyn have played some really good rugby. Our set-piece has been functioning when the two of them have been playing. Between the three of them we have got a good balance. It’s about deciding what way we are going to go at the weekend.”
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