Munster boss van Graan cheered by return of Ireland trio

Munster boss Johann van Graan will welcome back a trio of internationals for his side’s Guinness PRO14 trip to Cardiff Blues on Saturday as he attempts to guide the province through a four-game block without his Ireland front-liners.

Loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne, centre Rory Scannell and fly-half Ian Keatley have all been released from the Ireland squad, as the NatWest 6 Nations moves into a rest week after two rounds in which the national side beat France and Italy. Neither Keatley nor Scannell featured in those victories, though the latter travelled with the squad to Paris as 24th man at Stade de France, while the former spent the first two weeks of Irish camp nursing a knee injury sustained in Munster’s Champions Cup pool win over Castres in Limerick on January 21. That forced the prop out of both the training trip to Spain and the France preparation week, when he was replaced in the squad by provincial rival James Cronin.

Having completed his rehabilitation with Munster, Kilcoyne rejoined the Ireland squad at Cronin’s expense, last week, but was not selected in the matchday squad for last Saturday’s Italy game.

With Ireland — including Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, John Ryan and, by process of elimination, centre Chris Farrell — heading to Athlone today for a 48-hour training camp at Buccaneers RFC, as thoughts turn to a February 24 showdown with Wales in Dublin, provincial head coach van Graan was only too happy to welcome back three internationals into the fold for this weekend’s trip to the Welsh capital.

“Dave Kilcoyne is back in camp and Keats and Rory will be available. I think that’s it,” said van Graan yesterday, before adding that he hoped Kilcoyne would be in the Munster 23 to face Cardiff.

The head coach said there were no fresh injury concerns arising from last Saturday’s 33-5, bonus-point, PRO14 win over Zebre at Thomond Park.

“Nothing big, [though] quite a few bumps and bruises. It was a lot more physical than it looked to the eye. We had to make a lot of tackles. We knew that they wanted to keep the ball and it was important for us that they kept the ball in their own half, which I thought we did well. We defended well, we’ve only [conceded] one try in the last two games, but nothing serious and we’re hoping that [today] everybody will be back on the pitch.”

Already missing so much experience in the form of Munster’s Ireland absentees, as well as the injured Tyler Bleyendaal (neck), Tommy O’Donnell (AC joint), Andrew Conway (knee) and Jaco Taute (knee), van Graan faces the prospect of heavy squad rotation over the next three weeks, with league games in Cardiff and Edinburgh either side of the visit of Conference B leaders Glasgow Warriors to Cork on February 23.

“We’ve got big dreams for this team for this year and going forward. We said from day one this is a squad effort and, in order for yourself to play in the big games, you need to perform in... let’s call it ‘the smaller games’, so, this four weeks is all about improving as a
side and about guys deserving their opportunities. We’ll make quite a few changes again for this weekend, use our squad and we’ve got two Friday games coming up after this one, which will be a short turnaround, so we need our whole squad.

“Guys will go up and down into the Irish squad and this is all preparation for the big games at the end of the season.”


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