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Van Graan Expects ‘A Massive Challenge’ From Castres

Van Graan Expects ‘A Massive Challenge’ From Castres

The Munster squad have stepped up their preparations ahead of Sunday’s return to Heineken Champions Cup action against reigning French champions Castres Olympique at Thomond Park (kick-off 1pm).

With last January’s 48-3 defeat in Limerick no doubt on Castres’ minds this week, Munster head coach Johann van Graan warned: “You don’t become the champions of France for nothing. They won two away games to get into that Top 14 final last season and then to win it. We drew with them last year away so it will be a massive challenge.

“It’s a whole new year and they’ve got a squad with a lot of belief. We’ve been watching them over the last few weeks and they’ve put in some pretty decent results with some quality players. This is Europe, so we’re looking forward to it.”

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The South African was pleased to see the cohesiveness and clinical edge of the Munster back-line against Edinburgh, with Keith Earls chipping in with a quick-fire hat-trick, Andrew Conway and man-of-the-match Chris Farrell both bagging braces, and Tyler Bleyendaal also touching down off the bench.

“It was pretty nice for our outside backs to score that many tries and I thought system-wise it shows that there’s growth in our team. And the fact that all those internationals came back, the Academy guys came in and the regulars could glue back in with literally one training session.

We only had our Captain’s Run on the grass here in the afternoon (at Irish Independent Park), just basically a walk-through. It shows that system-wise we are aligned. I thought that alignment was really good,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Munster medical team have confirmed that full-back Mike Haley was replaced at half-time against Edinburgh due to a suspected concussion. He has been assessed by the medical staff and will undergo the return-to-play protocols.

In-form winger Conway, who has scored five tries in his last appearances for Ireland and Munster, departed last Friday night following a knee contusion and has been assessed. The 27-year-old Dubliner will return to training this week.

Prop Stephen Archer has been unable to train due to illness, while Kiwi scrum half Alby Mathewson is rehabbing from a calf injury and will look to reintegrate into training over the next few weeks. Fellow back Darren Sweetnam is recovering from a back injury and continues to be monitored by the medical team.

With James Cronin rehabbing a leg injury, prop Jeremy Loughman has been nominated by Munster as an additional player for round 3 of the Champions Cup with Cronin deregistered. A mix of senior and Academy players, 15 in total, played in the All-Ireland League last weekend.

The following players are progressing with their rehabilitation: Liam O’Connor (knee), James Cronin (leg), Rhys Marshall (hamstring), Jean Kleyn (thumb), Tommy O’Donnell (ankle) Jack O’Donoghue (knee), Dave O’Callaghan (foot) James Hart (knee), Dan Goggin (knee) and Stephen Fitzgerald (foot).