Sunday 19 January 2020

Van Graan plans to shuffle pack for altitude 'test'

Johann van Graan. Photo: Luke Walker/Sportsfile
Johann van Graan. Photo: Luke Walker/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Munster coach Johann van Graan, having made ten changes for the win over Southern Kings at the weekend, again looks set to alter his side for Friday's Guinness PRO14 clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Van Graan will want some of his front-liners to have a good hit-out before Sunday week's Champions Cup semi-final showdown against Racing 92, while at the same time keeping his fingers crossed that his lengthy injury list is not added to.

With this in mind a couple of key players could be restricted to the bench and given a short run in a game which will be played at high altitude.

Victory on Friday will guarantee a home quarter-final for Munster, most likely against Edinburgh.

"There will be a lot of changes again for this weekend. That is why we brought out a big squad so that we could manage guys through these two weeks with the semi-final coming up next week and also to give respect to the Cheetahs that they deserve as they are a quality side," said Van Graan in Cape Town yesterday.

They look set for a big boost ahead of their Champions Cup semi-final showdown on Sunday week with loosehead prop James Cronin poised to be fit.

The 27-year-old went off with what looked a serious shoulder injury in the early stages of the win over the Southern Kings on Saturday and, with Liam O'Connor already out for the season, it would have left Munster thin on the ground for cover for the position.

Read more: Late bloomer Cronin's second chance

But Cronin's injury is not as serious as initially feared and he could even be back for the clash with the Cheetahs, although coach Van Graan may decide not to risk him.

"He got a stinger on his shoulder which went into his neck but, luckily, nothing too serious.

"It may be uncomfortable movement especially for a prop but it is not as serious as feared on Saturday," said Van Graan.

Simon Zebo and Darren Sweetnam, who both missed the 39-22 win over the Southern Kings in George, were also been assessed after training yesterday.

Zebo has a hip issue and Sweetnam is troubled by a minor hamstring problem and, like Cronin, a call will be made today on whether they will play on Friday.

"We will see how they are but we won't take any risks. We have a big squad here with us so we have options," added Van Graan.

Bulls centre Dries Swanepoel, who may be signed on a short-term injury-cover deal, has linked up with the squad, but is not training with them.

The squad trained in warm sunshine yesterday in Cape Town, having returned there by bus on Sunday from George.

That journey took almost seven hours but that was nothing compared to the 55-hour nightmare journey Cardiff Blues, who are staying in the same hotel near the Waterfront in Cape Town with them, endured on their trip to Bloemfontein last weekend.

The Munster squad will enjoy a rest day today with some of them heading off on safari and others taking in the sights of Cape Town.

Over 200 Munster supporters are enjoying the two-match tour while for the South Africa players in the squad it is a chance to catch up with family and friends.

Van Graan said that Friday's clash at high altitude in Bloemfontein would be a huge examination for his men as they battle it out with the Cheetahs for home advantage in the quarter-finals.

"If I am not mistaken they have only lost once at home in the PRO14 this season and it will be a big test for us on Friday evening," he added.

Meanwhile, experienced hooker Mike Sherry, who has recovered from injury nightmares in recent seasons, has been rewarded with a one-year contract extension.

Prop Jeremy Loughman has also penned a one-year extension to his deal.

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