Van Graan fears Earls will be out ‘for quite a long time’

Munster head coach Johann van Graan has serious concerns about Keith Earls’ fitness as the province prepare for crucial Guinness PRO14 and European Champions Cup games over the next month.

The Grand Slam-winning hero limped out of Saturday’s sensational win over England and will have his damaged knee assessed by medical experts in the coming days.

Munster’s head coach is preparing himself for the worst case scenario. “I spoke to him personally and he was in a lot of pain,” said van Graan.

“If you just looked at the clip, he seemed to be in a bit of trouble (against England). Knowing Earlsie, he’s quite a tough man, he’s been through a lot and you know just watching the footage, if you watch him celebrating in the circle afterward he was jumping on one leg.

“I don’t have any medical confirmation at this stage. I fear he is going to be out for quite a long time. I spoke to him Saturday evening and congratulated our guys on their performance and exchanged a few text messages over the last few days. 

“He’s obviously upset and hurt. He loved the fact that Ireland won but the injury is the bigger concern here, not only for Munster but for Ireland as well.”

Van Graan also revealed that Tyler Bleyendaal, the talented out-half from New Zealand, has undergone surgery on a nagging neck injury and will not play again this season.

Given that South African Jaco Taute was ruled out from the beginning of the season, that Chris Farrell went down a couple of days after an outstanding performance for Ireland against Wales, and that scrum-half Duncan Williams is a six-to-eight-week casualty after picking up a nasty facial injury in training, Munster have suffered particularly badly in the back division.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there with dynamic South African flanker Chris Cloete sidelined with a broken arm while others providing concern for the medical team include Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton, Andrew Conway, Simon Zebo, Ronan O’Mahony, and Jean Klein.

The loss of Bleyendaal, though, has hit the squad hard given that he is one of Munster’s most popular and valuable members on and off the pitch.

“The thing that impressed me most about him is the person that he is, his rugby knowledge, and the way he keeps the team calm,” said van Graan.

“He sees the game in slow motion. In the Glasgow game, some of the things he did... not a lot of guys in rugby can do them. He’s a key part of Munster. He was our player of the year last year, he started most of the big games, and obviously it’s very disappointing for the team and for himself that he’s out for a long time now.

“It’s a great opportunity for Ian Keatley to shine again. I think he has been fantastic in the European games. In the last game against Castres, he managed that game well and in the away game to Leicester. He’s been in Irish camp and he’s back this morning so a perfect opportunity to take control of this team now for the next three or four months”.

Earls, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, and CJ Stander have been given this week off after their Ireland heroics and van Graan expects them to return next Monday ready and willing to take on Toulon five days later.

“I think they have won an amazing Six Nations where you have to look at the last weekend and see where all teams in the competition played very well,” he said.

“Obviously it was very physical and maybe mentally demanding. They have all got an off-week so they wouldn’t have been playing this week.

“Like I said before, we’ve got some pretty big dreams for this club and we’re in a home quarter-final against Toulon so I’m sure they will be back refreshed next Monday and will focus on Munster.”

This week the emphasis is very much on the visit of Scarlets in the PRO14.

The decisive manner in which they dealt with Munster in recent meetings and the fact one of their star players, Tadhg Beirne, is on his way to the province next season make it a particularly interesting clash.

“Tadhg is probably the form player of not only the PRO14 but possibly in Europe as well,” said van Graan. 

“He is unbelievable at the breakdown. He is by a long way the best guy on the ground and some of his broken field work is incredible. It is great that he is coming to Munster. I’ve never met him but he seems a fantastic guy and an unbelievable rugby player at this stage.

“I’m very glad that we’re getting him but at this stage he’s part of the opposition and playing very well for Scarlets and giving them a lot of energy. He’s getting man-of-the-match awards all the time and the beautiful thing about him is that he can play four, six, eight.”

Munster’s injured brigade 

Chris Farrell

Chris Cloete

Tyler Bleyendaal

Jaco Taute

Keith Earls

Rory Scannell

Simon Zebo

Jean Kleyn

Andrew Conway

Duncan Williams

Alex Wootton

Ronan O’Mahony


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