Van Graan’s ‘puzzle’ as Reds battle on two fronts

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Van Graan’s ‘puzzle’ as Reds battle on two fronts
Van Graan’s ‘puzzle’ as Reds battle on two fronts

Johann van Graan sends a mix-and-match Munster side into Stadio Monigo tonight with one eye firmly on next weekend’s European semi-final with Saracens.

An in-form, intensely physical Benetton team awaits the province in Treviso for this penultimate Guinness PRO14 fixture before the play-offs and with the Italian club chasing knockout rugby in the league and Munster already home and hosed in that regard, the visiting head coach makes 11 changes to the side which secured that play-off spot in Cork last Friday.

Van Graan spoke this week about the selection options that had to be weighed up.

With two games to go in the league season and three points to make up on Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors, a home semi-final that accompanies top spot is still in sight.

Yet in eight days there is also a chance to make a first European final since 2008.

Easter Saturday’s showdown with Saracens in Coventry represents the third season in a row and seventh time in the last 11 campaigns that Munster have reached the last four.

The previous six occasions saw them fail to go the extra step.

Van Graan is intent on giving his frontliners every possibility of ending the semi-final jinx by keeping them mothballed this weekend.

That may mean risking defeat to a side that earned a draw at Leinster last Saturday but the head coach is trusting his wider squad to do the job.

“It is like building a puzzle isn’t it?” van Graan said.

“I learned a lot of lessons from last season… just the way the fixtures fell, we needed to go to South Africa after the Toulon (Champions Cup quarter-final), played the Kings and Cheetahs, flew back, had two days of training and then had to fly to Bordeaux and play against Racing (in the semi), so whilst having to play guys on the one hand, you also have to rest certain guys up, you have protocols within Irish rugby that we want to keep the guys fresh.

You want to give some game minutes, you respect Treviso a lot. They have been one of the teams of the PRO14, but you also want to perform in Europe.

“You only get one shot at a semi-final, so it is a real balancing act.

“Look, we planned for this. After the Edinburgh game, we went the direction of going to our squad.

“The players know it and it’s on the squad, it is on all of us to go and get a result on Friday night. I can’t stress enough the amount of respect that we have for Treviso and what they have done this season.

“They have beaten literally everybody thus far in the PRO14, so they’re a quality side and it is a massive challenge that awaits us.”

Billy Holland will captain the side, one of the quartet retained from last Friday’s bonus-point win over Cardiff alongside Mike Haley, Darren Sweetnam, and Chris Cloete.

JJ Hanrahan starts at fly-half in place of Tyler Bleyendaal and earns his 100th Munster cap while tighthead Stephen Archer makes his 150th PRO14 appearance.

Sammy Arnold gets his first start in midfield since December 21 having made a try-scoring return off the bench last Friday from a leg injury is paired with Dan Goggin for the first time since October 6.

Jack O’Donoghue returns at blindside flanker having failed a Head Injury Assessment against Edinburgh on March 30 while replacement back-rower Dave O’Callaghan is set to make his first PRO14 appearance since September following a foot injury.

BENETTON RUGBY:

J Hayward; R Tavuyara, T Benvenuti, M Zanon, M Ioane; T Allan – captain, D Duvenage; N Quaglio, L Bigi, M Riccioni; I Herbst, F Ruzza; S Negri, A Steyn, T Halafihi.

Replacements:

H Faiva, C Traore, S Ferrari, M Lazzaroni, G Pettinelli, T Tebaldi, A Rizzi, T Iannone

MUNSTER:

M Haley; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, D Goggin, S Daly; JJ Hanrahan, A Mathewson; J Loughman, R Marshall, S Archer; F Wycherley, B Holland – captain; J O’Donoghue, C Cloete, G Coombes.

Replacements:

K O’Byrne, L O’Connor, C Parker, D O’Shea, D O’Callaghan, N Cronin, B Johnston, A McHenry.

Referee:

Ben Whitehouse (WRU).

Source: Sports