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Carbery return remains on ice but Van Graan embraces Reds' expectations

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Munster head coach Johann van Graan will have to plan without Joey Carbery when returning to action next month. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Munster head coach Johann van Graan will have to plan without Joey Carbery when returning to action next month. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Munster head coach Johann van Graan will have to plan without Joey Carbery when returning to action next month. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Sitting in front of a superimposed Munster Rugby branded back-drop, Johann van Graan acknowledges the expectation that comes with the job.

The South African has never shied away from the enormity of his first head-coach position, but now he knows that the pieces of the jigsaw are in place and the time has come to deliver.

On July 27, Van Graan will finally get his panel all together at the University of Limerick and never before will he have such strength to work with.

The arrival of RG Snyman and Damian de Allende, combined with the talented Matt Gallagher and exciting Roman Salanoa, have put Munster firmly back at the top table on paper.

Joey Carbery is the only member of his first-team squad officially ruled out of their return to action against Leinster on August 22, but he's pencilled in for a September return. 

The 2019/20 season effort was undermined by a summer dominated by coaching transition. Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree arrived, but the senior players were away at the World Cup.

Munster were always playing catch-up, had a horrendous European draw and exited the competition at the pool stages.

That narrows the focus for the coming weeks. With the ridiculously talented Snyman and ultra-competitive De Allende on board, they have a real chance of winning a first trophy since 2011 in the PRO14. 

Van Graan wants them to embrace the expectations.

"Ja, I believe so. It's one thing about Munster. I think you actually asked me that question on the first day when I came in 2017, is the expectations on Munster Rugby and that certainly won't change and it should never change, because we're expected to win at Munster," he said.

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"That being said, I think we are in a different time in terms of talking big picture. I think we've got to take baby steps and why I say that is the only thing we're concerned about now is August 22nd because the whole world will have changed.

Focused

"We are only focused on the first competition of the year because one thing we've learned is that if we look forward now to knockouts in European rugby in December and through next season I think we're just looking at it the wrong way.

"So, yep, the expectation will certainly be something that we'll embrace as a group but it's very much about those first few games against Leinster and Connacht and then hopefully qualifying for a semi-final, and then anything can happen with two weeks to go in the Aviva."

Slotting Carbery in between Conor Murray and De Allende would certainly help matters.

"It's important to note that his ankle surgery went very well but that was a serious injury and then I think people maybe under appreciate the fact that he had the operation and the rest," he said of the Ireland international, who has endured a torrid time with injury since moving to Munster.

"So if you just think about it, normally you've got two crutches that you walk with, all of a sudden a guy that had a major ankle operation then had a problem with his wrist. So he had to adapt to that and that's part of the reason he is taking so long.

"The timeline is still somewhere in September. He's working very hard, he's very excited about the comeback, but, specifically about Joey, it's very important that we only put him back on the field when he's 100pc ready.

"He's so important for us. He's one of only two senior out-halves (with JJ Hanrahan) that we have at Munster Rugby and he's a starting international, so he's not only important for us but for Irish rugby as well.

"He'll make sure he's 100pc ready when we put him back on the pitch and whether that will be at the back end of the first part of the PRO14 or the start of next season's PRO14 that will still be determined. The timeline is pretty much somewhere in September.

"He just wants to kick a ball again.

"That's mentally the tough part, for Joey specifically, he just wants to get back on the pitch.

"He's doing everything he physically can, too.

"He's got a very positive outlook on life. He came to Munster for very specific reasons, and he wants to be part of this team, be part of the 23 each week. That's his goal, to get back as soon as he can. We discuss his injury every week.

"Joey and I spend a lot of time (together) and it's important to put the person first and not always ask about the injury - because the injury is there for all to see, but actually how he's going with the player, the man himself.

"All credit to Joey and his family. He's got fantastic support from his girlfriend and his family and from the club; the medical team, the coaching team - everybody is looking after him fantastically well.

"At the end of the day, Joey's got to fight through this and he's doing really well with this."

One player who will add to Van Graan's options is Tadhg Beirne who will be available again when rugby resumes after injuring his ankle in January.

He'll add to Van Graan's options, with the coach hoping Snyman makes a huge impact.

"I've known RG for a long time, the important thing to note about him is that he's a different rugby player. He's different to your normal lock," he said. "He's versatile. He's one of the quickest locks I've seen. His offloading skills are incredible and signing him, he's very different to the general type of forward we have in terms of his offloading ability.

"You've got to have balance in the back, so he'll certainly give us some of that offloading ability because of his length.

"He's a phenomenal athlete in terms of what he can do, I just think he's got potential to be one of the very best rugby players in the world."


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