Thursday 22 August 2019

Fringe men eager to catch Van Graan's eye

New Munster boss Johann van Graan Photo: Sportsfile
New Munster boss Johann van Graan Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Given this is Johann van Graan's first spin behind the wheel of the Munster bus, there is more than standard interest in a fixture with Zebre.

The Italians came into this weekend without the normal anchor that ties them to the foot of the table - a sign of the times for the Ospreys, who have Glasgow at home this afternoon - so with Corkman Michael Bradley welcoming a Munster team to Italy, folks will want to tune in.

Naturally enough, Van Graan has been doing more observing than coaching this week, and from tomorrow he'll be taking the reins with both hands. You'd imagine that what he saw in UL last week, though, was a whole clatter of lads looking to impress.

"And that's exactly how it went," says forwards coach Jerry Flannery, who along with Felix Jones has been filling the gap left by Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber.

"One of the first things Johann said was that everyone was starting from square one so everyone has the same chance to impress. And with him being new it probably gives us some leverage over the next six weeks as lads are trying that extra bit to make the right impression. Even missing so many lads, we trained well. Having a bit of a break after the Dragons game allowed us to prepare well for this - there's less pressure on guys to get to grips with stuff for match day so we can fine-tune a bit.

"And I'd be happy enough with the side we have out. Yeah, we're missing a lot but through the spine of the team there's a few lads who've been around. It's not like we don't have any leaders."

With international demands, Munster have three academy backs on the bench in Jack Stafford - who is set to make his debut - Calvin Nash and Bill Johnston.

Most interest, however, will focus on the midfield where the highly-rated Sam Arnold gets a run in place of Chris Farrell, while JJ Hanrahan and James Hart team up at half-back for what will be the scrum-half's first start after four runs off the bench.

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Hart's presence in the pro game is testament to a phenomenal will to succeed. Tunnel vision is his best mate. It didn't get him as much game time as he'd hoped when he moved to Racing from Grenoble a couple of seasons ago, but getting to Grenoble was an achievement in itself. When he came to Munster last summer he must have targeted Duncan Williams, who is injured today, but he's dealing there with one of the great survivors. And if that position is going to change then Hart, with help from Hanrahan, needs to look in control this afternoon.

The last time the teams met in Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi it was just after last season's Six Nations, and Munster - with a fair few big guns on board - put 50 points on Zebre. Even with eight of the home team unavailable through Test duty, Van Graan will hardly be demanding a repeat performance.

Zebre: C Gaffney; P Bruno, G Bisegni, F Afamasaga, G D'Onofrio; M Azzolini, G Palazzani; C Ah-Nau, L Luus, E Bello; J Tucker, L Krumov; J Sarto (capt), D Minnie, J Meyer. Replacements: O Fabiani, A De Marchi, R Tenga, D Fragnito, M Mbanda, R Raffaele, M Pratichetti, V Bernabo.
Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, J Hart; L O'Connor, R Marshall, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland (capt); J O'Donoghue, C Cloete, Copeland. Replacements: K O'Byrne, B Scott, C Parker, D O'Shea, S O'Connor, J Stafford, B Johnston, C Nash.
Referee: L Linton (Wales)

Zebre v Munster,
Sky Sports/Eurosport, 1.30

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