Monday 19 February 2018

Van Graan's smooth start belies an uncertain road ahead for Munster

 

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

They're getting used to living with turbulent transition down Munster way.

No sooner than their latest head coach, their fourth since their last trophy win in 2011, got his feet under the table, Johan van Graan was forced to field questions about the potential possibility that he might have to plan for life without his influential captain.

With the future of CJ Stander also uncertain as the dreaded contract-renewal dance continues apace, the South African couldn't have asked for a more difficult bedding-in period.

At least the fixture list has been kind, offering up a feeble Ospreys' side in Irish Independent Park to follow up on last weekend's bloodless coup in Zebre where Van Graan held a watching brief.

How beneficial this fortnight might be ahead of the crucial Champions Cup double-header against Leicester, particularly in the absence of front-line internationals, is a moot point however. Stander and O'Mahony will not feature this evening; Munster fans will hope that their absence does not become a harsh reality of a difficult future.

Former Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll told ESPN Rugby yesterday that O'Mahony has a momentous decision to make as Irish rugby assesses the latest threats of a player drain and the prospect of being unavailable for Joe Schmidt's World Cup tilt. "I think Tadhg Furlong, Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray, those three names, if any of those were seen overseas the gulf between them and the next player is so vast that I think they'd have to pick them.

"Is Peter O'Mahony completely irreplaceable? Maybe not. There's the carrot of the World Cup in 2019 but it's a short career and people have to maximise their earnings while they can. So, you've got to make hay while sun shines."

The feeling is that logic - emotional and financial - must prevail as weakening Munster's health is not good for Irish rugby. Uncertainty persists, for now.

The Ospreys' stark decline is a reminder of what can happen if the national and regional interests are not properly aligned.

Rejuvenated international Ian Keatley returns at out-half in a game where Munster should be targeting a third successive bonus-point haul.

In contrast, Leinster are in the rudest of health as they build up to their own Champions Cup double-header against Exeter. Garry Ringrose finally makes his comeback from shoulder surgery in Treviso while new signing, star Super Rugby wing James Lowe, also make his seasonal bow in an exciting back-line.

Irish internationals James Tracy, Dave Kearney, Jack McGrath and the fit again Josh van der Flier also return.

Irish Independent

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