Monday 27 January 2020

Beirne a Six Nations doubt as Ireland stars to miss Christmas derbies

Tadhg Beirne leaves the field on a stretcher. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Tadhg Beirne leaves the field on a stretcher. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Thomond Park is sold out for Munster's Christmas clash with Leinster but it seems highly likely that none of Ireland's World Cup contingent will be involved in the fixture.

The Irish Independent understands that the players who represented Ireland in Japan must take two weeks off in a row during the festive period, so the provinces must choose between this week's match and the first week in January as to when to field them.

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The clashes between Ulster and Connacht on December 27 and Munster and Leinster on December 28 are set to take place without any Ireland players. Provinces can then choose whether to pick some or all of their leading lights in this week's games or in the derbies in the first week of January. Andy Farrell hosts his first camp as coach this week at Abbotstown after the matches between Leinster and Ulster on Friday and Connacht v Munster this Saturday, before breaking for Christmas.

The decision to rest the players comes at the midway point of a 13-month season. The players began their pre-season training on June 16 before travelling to the World Cup and those who go on tour to Australia will finish on July 11 next year.

The new coach will be sweating on the health of three of Munster's Ireland internationals ahead of the Six Nations after Tadhg Beirne suffered a serious ankle injury, John Ryan damaged a calf and Peter O'Mahony pulled his groin at Allianz Park on Saturday. O'Mahony was injured in the warm-up, while the other injuries came during the first half of a tough contest. Andrew Conway was also replaced with a head injury.

The winger will go through the return-to-play protocols, but he and the other three are due a festive rest either way. "They can only play one of the three games and they have to rest most of the time for two weeks consecutively," Munster head coach Johann van Graan said. "That's the thing about sending our guys to the World Cup, they're going to be out for most of these three weeks, and then if you add those injuries. I'm not going to make any excuses, that's just the way it is. We're facing Connacht away and we're facing Ulster away, and we're facing Leinster at home, so it is going to be a huge challenge on our squad and our academy.

"We've got to plan for it, and we've just got to throw guys in over the next three weeks and they've got to accept the challenge that lies ahead.

"I haven't spoken to Tadhg, but it looks pretty serious. Losing John Ryan, which looks also like a pretty serious calf injury, and losing Peter (ankle) in the warm-up and Andrew Conway to a HIA was tough to take.

"It's difficult to say (how serious O'Mahony's injury is). He pulled out, he had started the warm-up pretty well but pulled out... It's very frustrating to lose your captain in the warm-up, especially for a game like this. Then to lose Tadhg, your other loose forward, it made the lineout very interesting."

Stand-in captain CJ Stander said the players know the importance of taking a break. "You need a rest when you get it, we've got a big group, a great group with a great vibe in the group," he said.

"Everyone's excited and everyone wants to play and do well. Everyone will get a chance in the next few weeks for sure over Christmas, we're going to have to use it to make sure in the PRO14 we keep our standing where we are."

Ireland open their Six Nations campaign against Scotland on February 1, but before then Munster will learn their European fate as they go to Paris in search of the win they need over Racing 92 to keep their quarter-final chances alive.

"I think in a perfect world, if everyone is fit and ready to go then if we can up that for 80 minutes then happy days, that's what we train for," he said, adding that the team's experience of the La Défense Arena will stand to them. "I think 92 per cent of the squad has been there, we'll be well used to it. It's just going to come down to who is up for it on the day.

"Europe is a great competition, it's quick and it's the best coming up against each other. I'm looking forward to the rest of the pool."

Before then, there is a hectic series of interprovincials for Van Graan, and what's left of his squad, to tackle.

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