Tuesday 23 January 2018

Contracts are the tip of the iceberg as Van Graan prepares for early Munster acid test

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Amidst all of the noise swirling around his squad this week, Johann van Graan must apply a singular focus.

Luckily, little focuses the minds in his new home like the arrival of Leicester Tigers with Christmas just around the corner.

Disruption is part of the furniture at the province's High Performance Centre this season as they deal with high-profile player exits and coaching change, but after going through what they did last season it is no surprise that they are taking it all in their stride.

Given what's at stake, it would be remiss of them not to and if they can beat the English side on Saturday night, a sense of order will have been restored.

The issue for the South African coach as he approaches just his second game in full charge is the lengthy injury list he is coping with right now.

Leicester are also down some front-liners and lost England prop Ellis Genge yesterday, but the home backline is down bodies and a number of relatively new faces are going to have to step into the breach.

Any side would miss Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Jaco Taute and Tyler Bleyendaal - all of whom would be at least in the match-day 23 if fit. Squad men Dan Goggin and Ronan O'Mahony are also sidelined and Simon Zebo was withdrawn last weekend, but has trained this week.

Van Graan has registered former Ireland U-20 winger Calvin Nash in his European squad after the youngster came off the bench in last week's win over Ospreys, while front-row issues have seen Leinster prop Jeremy Loughman training in Limerick this week although nothing has been announced about him moving between the provinces.

As well as in the backline, there are issues up front where a fresh injury to Liam O'Connor compounds the loss of James Cronin and heaps the pressure on Dave Kilcoyne in a front-row that's already down Niall Scannell.

And yet, with all of the issues surrounding him, the coach says the focus within the set-up has stepped up a notch now that Europe has returned.

"It's like certain Test matches that I've been involved with, certain opposition brings a certain vibe," he said. "When I walked into the auditorium with all the players (on Monday), you could feel a different vibe than last week. All the international players are back as well and everybody knows that this is a big game in a very tightly contested pool.

"I've read about Munster versus Leicester in the past. I did a bit of research on the two games last year and more of the big-picture stuff about what's happening off the field and the way that the people react. This is a big game and one I'm looking forward to very much."

Leicester, meanwhile, have issues of their own.

Optimistic headlines about a return for Manu Tuilagi seem a tad premature, while playmaker Matt Toomua is also sidelined and Genge is a significant loss to their scrum effort.

The English side are top of a tight pool coming into the game but have lost their last two Premiership fixtures and are looking for defensive improvements on their visit to Ireland.

"The last two games have not been good enough. Bits have been good but we have not got the result that we needed and that is all that matters," winger Adam Thompstone told the 'Leicester Mercury'.

"There are things we need to work on because we are leaking too many points. We are working hard to rectify that and it has not gone unnoticed. We know we need to stop leaking points to win more games.

"We were bitterly disappointed about the weekend at Wasps but there is no let-up with Munster this weekend. Europe is our focus now, we just move on and try and improve."

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