Saturday 17 March 2018

McGahan happy to trust O’Mahony and rest of starlets amid Munster’s injury crisis

Munster head coach Tony McGahan during squad training ahead of their Heineken Cup game against Northampton Saints
Munster head coach Tony McGahan during squad training ahead of their Heineken Cup game against Northampton Saints
David Kelly

David Kelly

If it wasn't for bad luck, Munster wouldn't have any luck at all.

They'll have allowed themselves a rueful chuckle at this week's English survey that declared rugby injuries are no worse than at any other time in professionalism.

Stubbornly, their injured quotient will remain in the teens after they confirmed what many had already expected yesterday, namely that Niall Ronan's knee injury belongs to the dreaded cruciate family.

Sport is a ruthless business, though. No sooner had the squad offered a metaphorical shoulder for Ronan to lament upon, than they swiftly adjusted to the present reality.

There is no time for wallowing in the personal misery while the collective propels itself forward.

"For all of us down here, we are deeply saddened for Niall as he has been there or thereabouts down here for a time," said coach Tony McGahan appreciatively.

"He has played exceptionally well for us and has been making his mark in the Heineken Cup.

"For players and coaches he has been the standard-bearer for us at the breakdown and for us to be going into round six and have him taken away, with maybe some more time down the track, we will miss him.

"But we just have to get on with it. That's the nature of it. I think we have done that exceptionally well this year. We have had a long injury list and over the last few years we have had a number of long-term injuries to key players right across the board.

"But that's the nature of the game and you just need to get on with. No one is going to listen to a whinge about it or to any excuses. You just get on with it and the great thing down here is that whatever happens you just have to do that.

"Each player who has come in has stepped up to the mark and made their own point when the opportunity presented itself and whoever comes in this weekend will do that as well, I'm sure."

Peter O'Mahony, who finished last week's defeat of Castres at openside following Ronan's premature departure, will continue in that role in the ongoing absence of David Wallace and Tommy O'Donnell (Denis Leamy, another possible candidate, underwent hip surgery yesterday).

And captain Paul O'Connell has no doubt that O'Mahony can step up to the plate, agreeing that the feisty back-rower deserves to be acclaimed when Declan Kidney names his expanded Six Nations squad this lunchtime.

"We've a good few showing form," agreed the stand-in Irish captain, who will surely have had more than a few quiet words with his national coach about the prospective make-up of the Six Nations combination.

"The obvious one is Peter, who has been a stand-out player for us. But it's going to be difficult for him to break through, given the form being shown by the Irish back-row at the moment. But he's certainly one for the future and this run has been great for him.

"Donnacha Ryan has been doing it for a good few years, he's been shifted around positions a little bit. He's doing great to be picked now. Whenever he's played for Ireland, he's done well and he wouldn't have any problems if selected.

"Damien Varley has been another unsung hero for us. Our line-out has been excellent in the Heineken Cup and that's mainly been down to his throwing ability. It's probably a bit too early for Peter, but he's heading in the right direction."

All that is for the medium-term. The short-term focus in Limerick has been on Northampton and ensuring that their quest for a lucrative home quarter-final evades the thinly-concealed quest for vengeance emanating from the English midlands.

"We don't talk about things," straight-batted McGahan, deflecting the implicit agenda from the Saints that Munster were undeserving of their sensational round one victory thanks to the boot of Ronan O'Gara following 41 phases.

"We just get on and make sure we get the job done first, everything else that goes on -- the side antics, if it's outside the group, etc, you're going to get distracted from the job.

"We know ourselves we have to be 100pc committed to the task and we are certainly focused on the process of getting to the outcomes that we need. For us this week, it is just about us."

Munster's priority is that crucial quarter-final in Thomond Park, which history suggests is almost a pre-requisite for further advancement, even if the southern province is one of the few teams to have bucked that trend in the competition's history.

"It is vital," confirmed McGahan. "I don't know the exact stats, but I think there is an exceptionally high percentage of home sides going through. Nevertheless, Munster have won a couple of quarter-finals away from home as well.

"We recognise the benefits not only to our supporters, but commercially to the club and to the city as well. We understand this because we've had two home quarter-finals in the last three years."

While the knockout stages would mark a return to familiar territory for Munster, further signs of the changing of the guard were evident when both John Hayes and Peter Stringer were officially de-listed from the Heineken Cup squad, replaced by young Dolphin prop Christy Condon and the swiftly recuperating full-back Felix Jones.

Irish Independent

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