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Munster Building Nicely For Bordeaux Mission

Munster Building Nicely For Bordeaux Mission

Yesterday saw the Munster squad begin preparations at the High Performance Centre in UL for Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final against Racing 92 at Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas (kick-off 4.15pm local time/3.15pm Irish time).

Head coach Johann van Graan, Billy Holland and Andrew Conway spoke to the media in the HPC in Limerick ahead of training, and the South African provided the following injury update ahead of the semi-final trip.

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“Earlsy (Keith Earls) will be back on the field this week and we’re looking forward to seeing how he has recovered since his (knee) injury against England,” admitted van Graan. “Jack O’Donoghue (ankle) will also be on the field later in the week. We’ll just take it day by day and give guys as much time as we can to make the right decisions to select the team that’s all ready to go on Sunday.”

The Munster boss was pleased with how the two-week tour to South Africa went as Munster won both of their games – against the Southern Kings and the Toyota Cheetahs – and booked a home semi-final qualifier as Conference A’s second-place finishers.

“We said we needed balance on the tour, teams don’t go on tour so much these days. We bonded on the tour as a squad, we had some time to sit around the dinner table and get to know each other a lot better but we also trained really hard.

“We trained smartly and tried to rectify one of the things we weren’t happy with against Toulon (in the quarter-final). We gave the Kings and the Cheetahs the respect that they deserved while also doing one or two small things in preparation for Racing 92.”

Following last Friday’s 19-17 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, Dan Goggin is also being assessed for a knee injury, while fellow back James Hart is following the return-to-play protocols this week. James Cronin, who sustained a stinger/shoulder injury against the Kings, is progressing well and is expected to return to full contact training this week.

In encouraging news, Duncan Williams’ facial injury is healing much better than first expected. The scrum half, who was initially ruled out for the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery for an eye, cheekbone and palate injury, will meet with the specialist to review an earlier return timeline.

Experienced second row Holland captained the province against the Kings in George and echoed van Graan’s views of the South Africa tour, saying: “Ultimately we needed eight points from the trip and we got nine. It was a change of scenery and something different.

“You’re training in the sunshine and on your day off you’re going up Table Mountain not strolling down Patrick’s Street in the rain, so it was a nice change of scenery and refreshing at this stage of the season.

“From a morale point of view, when you go away as a squad like that you get to know fellas very well and I think there are a lot of guys much closer after the two weeks. That doesn’t get you a win against Racing but I think it puts you in a better position.”

Looking forward to the challenge in France on Sunday afternoon, quarter-final hero Conway knows that Munster have a huge task on their hands. “Racing have got big players, incredible individuals with hundreds of internationals caps between them,” he said.

“There are guys who know how to win knockout games of rugby in both teams and we know Racing quite well from the last few years. They will be looking at opportunities that they feel they can take against us and vice-versa. We’ll put a plan in place that we think is our best shot at beating them.”

Incoming Head of Athletic Performance, Denis Logan, visited Limerick and watched training from the sidelines yesterday ahead of joining Munster in May. In squad news, it has been confirmed that versatile back David Johnston will depart the province for English Championship side Ealing Trailfinders at the end of the season.