Earls and Cronin injuries a blow to Munster's European hopes
Keith Earls faces a race against time to prove his fitness for Munster's new year European fixtures after being ruled out for up to two months with a torn hamstring.
And the news is not much better for prop James Cronin who faces a similar absence with a torn calf muscle, making him a doubt for the early January trip to Paris to face Racing 92.
Both Irish internationals will definitely miss Munster's back-to-back Champions Cup clashes with Leicester Tigers next month, but despite missing this weekend's trip to Parma to face Zebre, Tyler Bleyendaal is expected back for that double-header.
Bleyendaal has missed the last three games for Munster due to a neck injury, and according to coach Jerry Flannery, the province want to be cautious with the New Zealander due to his history of neck problems.
The loss of Earls is a huge blow to Munster's hopes of reaching the last eight of the competition - he was injured in Ireland training ahead of the South Africa game - and having to plan without "one of the best players in the world" is a significant setback, says Flannery.
"Earlsey is going to be out, he is not going to be available for the foreseeable future," said Flannery.
"It'll be another seven or eight weeks anyway with his hamstring. Whether it progresses better as it gets closer I don't know.
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"I think initially it was around a two to three-month injury from what I understood. I think now it's coming in around two months.
"It's (a hamstring tear), but quite bad. It's disappointing because Earlsey was in great form.
"But on the positive side it's the one area if we were to lose a player, we have got depth there.
"But obviously Keith Earls is one of the best players in the world, so we don't want to lose him. But that's rugby."
Flannery is hopeful that Bleyendaal will return as soon as next week.
"It's the fact that he has had a fusion in there (the neck) before, that means we are being extra cautious with it. The medics seem to be happy enough with how it's progressing so that's good enough for me.
"We would hope Tyler would be available possibly maybe for Ospreys next week or into Europe."
Back-row Jack O'Donoghue has shaken off an ankle injury, although Munster could be a little short-handed at scrum-half with Duncan Williams ruled out this weekend due to a shoulder injury, which should mean a first start for summer signing James Hart.
'Reds' carpet rolled out for van Graan arrival
There was a typical warm Munster welcome for Johann van Graan as the newly-appointed head coach attended his first training session in front of the media yesterday at the University of Limerick.
Our picture, taken by Diarmuid Greene of Sportsfile, shows the South African settling into his new position as Van Graan shares a joke with technical coach Felix Jones and scrum coach Jerry Flannery.
However, much like a new Premier League manager, the former Springboks forwards coach has opted to observe this week and not to take a hands-on role.
As a result, Flannery and Jones will take charge of the team affairs as the Reds prepare to travel to play Zebre on Sunday.
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