Munster open their 2019/20 Champions Cup campaign this weekend when they make the short trip to Swansea where they face the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium. Johann van Graan’s men made the semi-final last season, but ultimately fell to a Saracens side that went on to win the competition when they beat Leinster in the final.
Munster go into Saturday’s game on the back of a bonus-point win over Ulster at Thomond Park. Several of Munster’s Irish players that played in the World Cup returned to action in that game and are likely to feature again against the Ospreys. Two players that will play no part in the game are Chris Cloete and Dave Kilcoyne.
Cloete suffered a concussion in that game and is following the return to play protocols. Van Graan said that he was suffering symptoms at training on Monday, while Kilcoyne is expected to be out for a couple of weeks after picking up an injury during a scrum session in training.
The news is better on JJ Hanrahan after a scan revealed that the hamstring injury that forced him off early on against Ulster is not serious. He will be given every chance to prove his fitness for the Ospreys game.
The game with the Ospreys marks the beginning of the 25th season of the premier European club rugby tournament. It’s one that van Graan is excited about:
“Really looking forward to it. Enjoyed the pre-season. Enjoyed the block of games. It was good that we went on tour early, but last week was great to welcome back all the players that went to the World Cup.”
“Brilliant to back on Monday for the start of the Champions Cup. A brilliant competition. I’ve said it before, fantastic for World Rugby to have this competition of five pools of 20 teams competing for eight spots. We have got a very tough pool, but really looking forward to getting started at the weekend against the Ospreys.”
“It’s the same as last year and will be the same in the coming years. If you start away, it would be great to get some points. We have discussed it as a group that in the previous years we have started with a draw in Castres and then last year a draw with Exeter. All games in this competition are incredibly tough. Hopefully we can perform well on Saturday and hopefully the performance will lead to a win.”
Munster face an Ospreys team that have had a nightmare start to their season. Former Ulster hooker Allen Clarke is head coach of the side and admitted that is side were in the midst of a ‘dark period’ after their shock Pro14 defeat to Southern Kings last weekend.
“It is probably the toughest period for me and a real test of character and resilience,” Clarke told BBC after the Kings loss. “Not just for me but for everybody. Considering what we are going through there is a pragmatism and realism of where we are and what we need to do to improve.”
The Welsh side are hopeful to have Nicky Smith and Aled Davies back for the Munster game, but it will be unlikely that the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, George North and Bradley Davies will play any part in the game after their World Cup exploits with Wales. Munster v Ospreys has a 5:30pm kick-off on Saturday and is live on BT Sport.