MUNSTER travel to Italy this weekend to face Zebre following their comprehensive 68-3 win over the Southern Kings in Cork. Johann van Graan’s men moved up to second place in the conference by virtue of that victory with debutant John Hodnett among those to impress earning a man of the match gong.
The trip to face Michael Bradley’s side is another chance to blood some of the young guns that have impressed with the province in recent times. However, the massive win has been overshadowed by the death of former Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald, who passed away at the weekend. Van Graan led the tributes to Fitzgerald earlier this week.
“He was a great man. It was an emotional day (Fitzgerald’s funeral on Monday). All of Munster went to the church to make sure we pay the respect that Garrett deserved. On top of that, to make sure that Aine and the kids are as good as they can be.
“On the other side of it, we have a game on Friday night to prepare for so that’s all our focus for the rest of the week. We had a very short turnaround from the Kings on Monday to Tuesday, but that’s sport and you have got to adapt to what life throws at you.”
The victory over the Kings saw Munster at the summit of Conference B in the Pro14, but Edinburgh’s win over Scarlets last Saturday saw them regain the top spot. Van Graan is expecting lots of change at the top of the table for the rest of the regular season.
“If you look at how the fixtures fall, everybody is playing everybody in the coming weeks and I guess that everybody will have some ups and downs over the next 10 rounds. You have got to make sure that you stay in contention.
“Our last three games of the season are against Scarlets away, Edinburgh away and Connacht at home. It’s four teams within this group and the double swing of points against the teams in your conference will be massive in the context of the season.”
The Munster head coach also spoke of the importance of growing the squad ahead of the Zebre game, noting that some of the players that impressed against the Kings may not get a run in Italy, where others will get a chance to show their talents.
Two players that will be in contention for Munster at the weekend are Darren Sweetnam and Tommy O’Donnell who have made their return from injury. However, there is no update on when out half duo Joey Carbery and Tyler Bleyendaal will return to action. Munster’s game with Zebre on Friday is live on eirSport.