Munster will wait anxiously on the recovery of Keith Earls from a hamstring strain as director of rugby Rassie Erasmus tries to figure out his centre options for Saturday’s first outing of the Pro12 campaign at Thomond Park against Edinburgh.
Ireland wing Earls, named at outside centre for last Saturday’s trip to Newport Gwent Dragons for his first start of the season, was a late withdrawal after pulling up in training, forcing Erasmus to switch academy centre Dan Goggin back into the 13 jersey and bring in former Leinster back Collie O’Shea for his Munster debut at 12.
Earls’s injury added to Munster’s midfield fitness woes following long-term injuries to Francis Saili and Sam Arnold and a neck problem for Rory Scannell. Yet while Scannell should be available for this weekend’s visit of Edinburgh, O’Shea will have to complete his return to play protocols to pass fit for Saturday having suffered a concussion in the win at Rodney Parade, as did full-back Andrew Conway, with Simon Zebo still a week away from his return from a rib injury.
Erasmus said Earls was “touch and go for the weekend” while revealing South Africa-capped centre Jaco Taute, a loan signing from his former Super Rugby outfit the Stormers, was still waiting to receive a work permit, though he insisted there had been no hitch in the application.
“There is two ways of looking at it,” Erasmus said of his meagre midfield resources. “The first way is if you look at it that Francis is out, then Scannell is gone from No 12. He went out then Sam Arnold was signed and he got injured long-term. Just take last week we had Earlsy on the Thursday or the Friday his hamstring wasn’t good. Then in the game Collie was (concussed)...
“We are down to, there are six (centres) out, I’m not saying the seventh and eighth guys are playing, but we are building squad depth and we are building character.
“Jaco’s work permit isn’t quite there, so yet it is definitely challenging and some guys are swimming through this and getting there and getting better. Some guys are struggling and will get better.
“So it is what it is and as long as we can keep winning the moment those guys come back and are fully fit and are back to their best we suddenly have eight guys that can play centre. Then if we get an injury we know we can handle that. That’s a positive.”
From slim pickings to being spoilt for choice, Erasmus said he was happy to give club captain Peter O’Mahony as much time as he needed to make his return from the serious knee injury he suffered last October at the World Cup. O’Mahony will not make his comeback this weekend and the director of rugby said: “We are just being over cautious.
“We have got a bulk of loose forwards fit and available and playing well. I’d rather take a week or so longer. There is no setback with him. He was thinking game three or four, but because the guys are fit and playing really well why risk him? A guy like him will always be missed on the field, but we might even stretch till after next week. But listen he is taking part in mauling, in scrumming and everything. We’ve got an opportunity to be cautious here and we are taking it that way.”
Erasmus said O’Mahony would be at full speed in time for the Champions Cup round one clash at Racing 92 in October but was happy to take the long view, and the same applied to fellow flanker Tommy O’Donnell, who sat out last weekend’s win at Newport following a concussion the previous week in the home loss to Cardiff Blues in Cork.
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