Wednesday 24 April 2019

Van Graan urges Munster not to let opportunities pass them by in race for top spot

Munster v Zebre, Live, TG4/ eir Sport 1, 7.45

CJ Stander. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander. Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Rooney

Johann van Graan has called on his players to nail the basics and avoid possible pitfalls against Zebre as the race for top spot in Conference A heats up.

With just three league games remaining after today's clash, Munster currently trail Glasgow Warriors by three points in the table.

The pool winners go straight into the semi-finals and will enjoy home advantage there, while second position means a play-off against the third-placed team in Conference B.

Last time out a below-par performance meant Munster lost to Scarlets and relinquished first position in the division, and Van Graan wants his side to get back to winning ways in a game that has to be regarded as must-win - with a bonus point tagged on.

"Most importantly we must finish the opportunities that come our way because we've let one or two of them slip," said Van Graan, who will have to plan without Mike Sherry for the rest of the season after Munster confirmed the hooker has joined Gloucester until the end of the campaign.

"Like every week we respect them. It will be a battle on Saturday night and we've got make sure we focus on ourselves and we'll play well.

"We also come from a three-week break so we've got to make sure we do the basics right, get our set-piece right, get our kicking game right.

"Most importantly, it's a new rugby game at the start of a new block.

"We haven't been together as a team for quite a bit of time now. We're second in our conference in the PRO14 and we've got to keep up to Glasgow, so it's exciting times ahead."

To boost his side's hopes of victory, the Munster coach has parachuted CJ Stander straight into the No 8 slot a week after he played for Ireland against Wales.

His fellow Six Nations squad members Niall Scannell, John Ryan and Chris Farrell have been named among the replacements, while Duncan Williams could make his first appearance since November following injury.

Zebre coach Michael Bradley has named nine of his internationals to start.

The remainder of the Ireland internationals will link up with the squad on Monday ahead of their Champions Cup quarter-final against Edinburgh next weekend, and the coach has warned against looking past this clash with the Italians.

"Looking to the future, if we can't get it right this weekend we've got to improve again for next week. But we must make sure about this weekend first.

"They've (Zebre) have been playing some exceptional rugby.

"They really pushed Leinster close, the score was 28-24 with 10 minutes to go. They're a hard team to break down and if you're not clever against them you might chase them and then they become really dangerous."

Despite Van Graan's warnings, the odds are stacked against Zebre in this game. Their last PRO14 win away from home came in the final game of last season in Treviso, while their last of three league wins this season arrived back in October.

Verdict: Munster

MUNSTER - M Haley; D Sweetnam, D Goggin, R Scannell, A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, A Mathewson; J Loughman, R Marshall, S Archer; F Wycherley, D O'Shea; J O'Donoghue, C Cloete, CJ Stander. Reps: N Scannell, L O'Connor, J Ryan, J Kleyn, A Botha, D Williams, T Bleyendaal, C Farrell

ZEBRE - E Padovani; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, J Elliott; C Canna, G Palazzani; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, R Tenga; D Sisi, G Biagi (capt); M Mbandà, J Tuivaiti, R Giammarioli. Reps: L Luus, D Rimpelli, M Ciccioli, L Krumov, A Tauyavuca, M Violi, F Brummer, M Bellini.

REF - D Jones (WRU).

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