A look around the UL Bowl yesterday quickly indicated that Munster should be in a much better position regarding player availability this season than was the case for the Guinness Pro 12 final against Glasgow Warriors only ten weeks ago.
On that occasion, players of the quality of Mike Sherry, Robin Copeland, Dave Foley, Gerhard Van den Heever, Duncan Casey and Tyler Blyendaal were not available to head coach Anthony Foley. All six along with Cian Bohane, Dave O’Callaghan and Shane Buckley were ruled out by injury.
However, the rehab work has paid off and all were present yesterday trying to catch Foley’s eye in the build-up to Friday night’s (7 o’clock) seasonal warm-up game against French side Grenoble at Thomond Park.
The coach needs no reminding that Munster performed very poorly in last season’s European Cup and were soundly thrashed by Glasgow Warriors in the Pro 12 decider.
He knows that the squad needs to step up appreciably and that there will consequently be a degree of pressure on himself and his back-up team to deliver this time round. He must be ardently hoping a couple of high profile New Zealanders can come to his aid.
With JJ Hanrahan having departed for Northampton Saints, the out-half and first centre positions will command a great deal of attention and accordingly the form of Blyendaal and Francis Saili will be vital to the team’s prospects.
Whereas the former has been kicking his heels for the best part of a year because of a neck injury, Saili has only just arrived and actually sooner than had been expected.
“There was a bit of work going on in the background there”, explained Foley. “Obviously we were keen with the World Cup players away and potentially missing players. We were looking at whether we needed to get World Cup cover in and we managed to negotiate an early release and are fortunate enough for Francis to be over here and training well.
“He moved over only last week and has got to catch up on sleep and stuff like that. We want to make sure he’s settled in, that he gets to know the lads, make sure he’s got the calls and we’ll see where he goes from there. You’ll definitely see Tyler on Friday night and I’m looking forward to seeing him in the red jersey at Thomond Park. At the moment he’s running 10/12 and he’s very comfortable in both positions.” Munster fans may have to wait another few weeks before seeing new signing, the 58 times capped Australian Mark Chisholm take over from the departed Paul O’Connell’s in the second-row.
But it’s clearly a signing that has excited Foley: “He will bring athleticism, power, size, leadership and a freshness and he’ll be with us all the time. That’s one of the great advantages with him”, said Foley.
“We are waiting on a work permit and hopefully that’ll get done and we can get him over as soon as possible. We hope to get a lot of benefit out of him and create that competition within the squad that we’re looking for.
“We still have very good second rows here that are champing at the bit to wear those four and five jerseys. It adds that bit of competition and, hopefully, we see a rise in the tide.
“Without Paul O’Connell, it’s the same but different if you can understand what I mean. The internationals wouldn’t be here anyway and where it will become a bit different is around the European Cup games. Nothing has really changed. We wouldn’t see a lot of the international guys in this period anyway and you know it will be the big change when we’re togging out for Treviso, Stade and Leicester.”
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