Tuesday 11 December 2018

Simon Zebo in a battle to be fit for Munster's crucial Champions Cup double-header

Munster 36 Ospreys 10

Simon Zebo of Munster reacts after picking up a knock during the Guinness PRO14 Round 10 match between Munster and Ospreys at Irish Independent Park in Cork. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Simon Zebo of Munster reacts after picking up a knock during the Guinness PRO14 Round 10 match between Munster and Ospreys at Irish Independent Park in Cork. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Munster’s Sam Arnold gets away from James Hook and James King on his way to scoring his side’s first try. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Injury has stalked the Munster camp relentlessly this season, and it struck again at Irish Independent Park with the loss of loose head Liam O'Connor ahead of next Saturday's Champions Cup tie with Leicester Tigers.

So on a perfect night for rugby, and with a full house enjoying a five-try Munster performance, the struggle to keep a fit 15 players on the field was the main issue.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Simon Zebo didn't appear for the second half and the rapidly-developing Liam O'Connor had to leave on a stretcher.

Precautionary

Jack O'Donoghue also had a shoulder issue which cost him the last few minutes.

"Zeebs we took off as a precautionary measure," new head coach Johann van Graan said. "Last week he had the knee and here he got a bang in the ribs. We'll know more on Monday.

"It doesn't look serious - it might be a week or two but I don't want to speculate at this stage.

Simon Zebo trudges off. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Simon Zebo trudges off. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

"Liam's (injury) looks pretty serious. It's sad; he's important to us in terms of our 23 and going forward."

The door opened for O'Connor this season with the injury issues stalling James Cronin's career, and he had been developing very well.

His battle with the veteran Osprey Dmitri Arhip was a perfect illustration of how far he had come.

If staying in the fight is the basic requirement of any young prop then O'Connor was 100-per-cent up for it. Brian Scott, who replaced O'Connor, is in line for a place on the bench on Saturday behind Dave Kilcoyne.

Jean Kleyn of Munster is tackled by Gareth Thomas of Ospreys. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Jean Kleyn of Munster is tackled by Gareth Thomas of Ospreys. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

"We'll just have to adapt and stand up and fight," Van Graan (below) added, picking up on a well-developed theme. "I thought Brian Scott actually did very well. He carried the ball and made some good hits.

"Depth will be a problem for us now. But that's rugby; we've got to adapt and make plans and take it as it goes.

"We've had so many injuries in the autumn internationals over the last month but, like I said before, the positive is there's an opportunity and I like to see the glass half-full. We've a lot of guys coming back over the next seven or eight weeks. Every game is a big one so hopefully we'll get some guys back over the coming weeks as well."

The good news for the South African is how well the squad are coping with the setbacks, and how their rhythm is surviving all the disruption.

Bradley Davies of Ospreys in action against Billy Holland of Munster. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Bradley Davies of Ospreys in action against Billy Holland of Munster. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

With Tyler Bleyendaal's fitness still an issue for the Tigers game, Ian Keatley took the opportunity to emphasise what he can bring to the table.

The outhalf got almost everything right between ball in hand and shots off the tee.

His speed of thought and action for Darren Sweetnam's try, the conversion of which put Munster 17-0 clear after 24 minutes, caught it perfectly: if plan A is closed then open up plan B and do it quickly and accurately.

Keatley's partner James Hart, a bit player for his career in France, also did a fine job before Duncan Williams came on in the second half. That control at half back kept the coach happy. As did a set-piece performance that was solid from start to finish.

Composure

"Our composure," Van Graan said, of the area that most impressed him. "I thought this was going to be a difficult game for us with Europe looming, playing against a team who were desperate.

"We started well and for the first 36 minutes we were clinical. We adapted at half time and scored that brilliant try right after half-time."

By the break, Ospreys were locked into the mode that has characterised their season: fire fighting.

Bizarrely, they were peeved at the yellow card for Will Jones for a dangerous flip of Chris Cloete.

To Munster's credit, they went to town with the extra man, with converted tries from Sam Arnold - another man in a hurry to get his name in lights - and Sweetnam, and Jones was barely back on the field when, coincidentally, Cloete scored.

The South African had a terrific game. Rhys Marshall got the man of the match award but the flanker can't have been far behind him - a welcome sight for Van Graan given Tommy O'Donnell's shoulder problem.

As for next Saturday's showdown with the Tigers, van Graan said: "We've done quite a bit of planning on them - they're a quality team in what's a tight pool.

"This is the big competition in the world in terms of club rugby. Leicester Tigers are one of the premier clubs in the world so it will be massive. I can't wait to start on Monday morning. I'm here to make subtle changes - some things (already) work very well, but we've got a lot to work on.

"Well done to everyone so far - all the coaches, all the players. We'll keep improving. This is a marathon. We'll go week to week and day by day."

The least he will hope is that the coming days, and the countdown to a full house in Thomond Park, doesn't rob him of any more bodies.

Munster - S Zebo (JJ Hanrahan h-t); D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley (C Nash 57), J Hart (D Williams 51); L O'Connor (B Scott 48), R Marshall, J Ryan (S Archer 74), J Kleyn (D O'Shea 51), B Holland, J O'Donoghue (yc 68), R Copeland (S O'Connor 77), C Cloete.

Ospreys - D Evans; H Dirksen, K Fonotia, J Hook, J Hassler (J Thomas 73); S Davies (L Price 76), T Habberfield; G Thomas (R Jenkins 42), S Parry (S Baldwin HIA 26-32; 36), D Arhip, L Ashley (R McCusker HIA 54-62), B Davies, O Cracknell (J McCusker 74) King, W Jones (yc 17-27).

Referee - B Whitehouse (Wales).

 

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