Sunday 23 September 2018

Munster hoping big men turn up fit and ready for work

Munster 19 Scarlets 7

Munster's Robin Copeland. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Robin Copeland. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

It's good news on the league front for Munster, with a win that has them second and six points clear of the Cheetahs, but with Toulon coming to Limerick on Saturday their injury list has lengthened even further.

Having started the night with a full backline unavailable they added another two players, with Rory Scannell going off with a HIA and Tommy O'Donnell in more serious trouble with a shoulder injury.

Given the flanker's history, he tends not to do things by halves. So, not for the first time, Johann van Graan began a sentence by saying he's not a medic, and then giving a medical update that doesn't sound too promising.

"Not good, he was in a lot of pain," he said of O'Donnell.

"Arm's in a sling, but if I'm to guess it's going to be a few weeks or maybe a long time. If he's out it's another big blow for us."

You could understand if the South African isn't gushing about the wonder of the Six Nations given the cost to him of the Grand Slam.

Alex Wootton of Munster in action against Tom Varndell of Scarlets. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Alex Wootton of Munster in action against Tom Varndell of Scarlets. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

With Keith Earls and Chris Farrell banged up on international duty, and a clatter of other injuries already on his list - Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo are no better than 50-50 for the weekend - he really needed to get through this Guinness PRO14 game with a clean sheet. So this wasn't the ideal preparation for launching back into Europe.

"You always know the week before that there's the possibility of injuries - it's just part and parcel of the game of rugby," he said.

"We said back in January that we've got to give the squad opportunities, get players some minutes under the belt. That might help us in the next few weeks."

At this rate the replacements for the replacements will have more minutes than they can count.

Robin Copeland of Munster and Tadhg Beirne of Scarlets compete in a maul. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Robin Copeland of Munster and Tadhg Beirne of Scarlets compete in a maul. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

It's just as well then that Robin Copeland (pictured), who has one foot on the road to Galway, showed such good form in picking up yet another Man of the Match award. And that Dave O'Callaghan looked good when he came on, as did Jack O'Donoghue from the start.

So with the return of Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander, at least there is a decision of sorts to be made in the back row. And the front five also looks fit and ready for more work after being made to run around Thomond Park before getting a grip on the game in the second-half.

"Yes, they really tested us. They started like a runaway train. We knew their width was coming, but I thought we adjusted well and the players found solutions on the field," said Van Graan.

"We started to win some collisions and create pressure in their 22. We turned down the opportunity to go for three because we knew we needed to get a few punches in.

"We scored that try and then at half-time we changed a few things. I thought there was a massive scrum penalty in our own 22, just before we changed the entire front row. I thought in the last 20 minutes we played some great rugby and we ended the game very positively."

They needed to, for Scarlets were running them ragged in the opening half hour despite only having an Aled Davies try for their efforts.

The busiest man in Thomond Park, however, was the TMO, who was getting calls every other minute from referee Marius Mitrea.

Touchdown

In sequence he knocked back a touchdown for Alex Wootton; confirmed one for James Hart; denied one for James Cronin and then gave the green light to Wootton for the insurance score.

In all of that, Copeland's score early in the second-half was key for a team whose pack were far more direct after the break.

"I'm proud of the way the players reacted," Van Graan said.

"I wasn't happy with the body language last week. All credit to Billy (Holland). I thought his leadership was excellent.

"We were under pressure early in the game and that's when your leadership group needs to come through. All credit to them and to Billy - week-in, week-out, looking to improve his game. The way he handled the referee was good.

"It wasn't perfect, but as a squad it was important to get a win firstly and we did that. It was also important for us to be tested and we played against quality opposition.

"Perfect preparation against quality opposition. I'm fairly confident. We get our Ireland guys back on Monday. For big games you need big players to come through. Next week will be a game of pressure, but we absorb pressure."

Munster - JJ Hanrahan; C Nash (S Fitzgerald 73), S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley, J Hart (J Stafford 79); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 54), R Marshall (N Scannell 54), J Ryan (S Archer 54), J Kleyn (G Grobler 69), B Holland (capt), J O'Donoghue, R Copeland, T O'Donnell (D O'Callaghan 48)

Scarlets - T Williams (D Jones 63); T Varndell, S Williams (capt), P Asquith, S Evans; R Patchell, A Davies (J Evans 60); D Evans (P Price 54), R Elias (E Phillips 54), S Lee (W Kruger 54), T Beirne (L Rawlins 63), D Bulbring, A Shingler (J McLeod 54), W Boyde, J Davies

Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)

Irish Independent

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