Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham has heaped praise on the province’s departing scrum-half, Alby Mathewson, who will feature for Munster for the final time this weekend.
The province announced his departure earlier this week. The New Zealand native was originally signed on a short-term contract as injury cover for Conor Murray but remained with Munster for 15 months.
This weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup clash against Racing 92 will be his swansong at the province and Larkham admits that the club will miss his competitive nature and his influence on the emerging scrum-halves.
“It’s a sad moment really for everyone here and obviously for Alby. We knew when we signed him that this was going to eventuate at some stage. It’s just disappointing that it’s happening right now. He’s been a massive contributor to the team.
“His on-field performances have been amazing. He’s played for the All Blacks and you can see why. He consistently performs week in, week out.
“The biggest thing we’re going to miss here is just his contribution to the young nines that we have coming through. He’s an excellent coach off the field. He’s a super competitive person. That rubs off on everyone.
“It’s the work that he does behind the scenes with the nines that’s going to be more than missed in the organisation.”
There was good news for Munster ahead of Saturday’s clash with JJ Hanrahan and Rhys Marshall reintegrated into training this week. It will come as a major boost for Johann van Graan’s men who were lacking numbers in the fly-half position.
Tyler Bleyendaal started at 10 during last weekend’s bonus-point win over Ospreys with centre Rory Scannell acting as cover.
Larkham maintains that while Joey Carbery is not fit for the clash with Racing, he is progressing well with his rehabilitation from the ankle injury suffered in the World Cup warm-up games.
“[He’s] progressing really well. The way I understand it is we’re going to take it slow because there was a fair bit of damage there.
“He had a really good week last week, which is not to say it’s going to happen again this week but everything is on track for the timeline that we gave him in the first place. He’s not playing this weekend, he’s not ready to play this weekend.
“We’ll reassess him obviously next week to see how he goes and likewise the following week.”
Saturday’s meeting with the Top 14 side marks Simon Zebo’s first outing against his former club since he departed at the end of the 2017/18 season.
While the utility back is likely to get a rousing reception in Thomond Park, Larkham insists that he will be getting no special attention from the Munster players.
“He’s a good player. He’s scored more tries than any other Munster player. He’s a talented player with ball in hand on the back of a very talented backline.
“The challenge this week is not trying to find one person and target him, it’s to make sure we’re covering all bases and he’s, like I said, a very talented player but we’ve got to respect everyone in that backline.”
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