Munster head coach Johann van Graan is currently preparing his squad for an exhaustive period of games that will see the side in action 13 weeks in a row.
To add to the challenge, the South Africa native must integrate back into the squad the 12 players who will return to Ireland from the World Cup in Japan carrying the heavy weight of bitter disappointment.
While the return of Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and co. will significantly boost the squad, van Graan must be sure of their physical and mental wellbeing before they can take to the pitch.
“It will be a challenge. Obviously, 20 teams go to the World Cup and only one team wins it so for 19 teams it’ll be disappointing. We’ve had 12 players at the World Cup who are going to come back and that’s going to take a bit of time.
“First and foremost, it’s about their health and making sure they’re mentally and physically ready to go for what’s going to be a very tough block for all teams across Europe.
“13 weeks in a row up until the back end of January with some pretty big games coming up so it’s certainly going to be a challenge but we’re looking forward to getting our guys back.”
The international contingent will return to a much-changed Munster outfit following the arrival of new senior coach Stephen Larkham who has been implementing new systems following the departure of Felix Jones at the end of last season.
While van Graan would like more time to let the players adapt to the new systems, that is a luxury he cannot afford with four inter-provincial derbies and six Heineken Champions Cup clashes between now and the end of January.
“We haven’t seen these players for a few months and obviously, we’ve moved on and changed calls and some of the things we do so that’ll take time in itself.
“Graham [Rowntree, Munster’s new forwards coach] will be in Monday week and with Steve [Stephen Larkham] we’ve changed a few things too.
“I wish we had a bit more time but that’s just the way it is, as soon as they’re in, it’s just the next job. That’s the beauty of professional sport, you’ve just got to put your disappointment behind you.”
Meanwhile, there is positive news for the southern province on the injury front. Chris Cloete is expected to return ahead of schedule following the ankle injury he sustained in their win over Southern Kings earlier this month.
“He was in a lot of pain after that game and he went to hospital and got it scanned. Initially, it looked like a 6-8 week injury but he’s worked exceptionally hard over the last two weeks on his rehab. It looks like it might be a little bit closer.
“He’s definitely not available for selection this weekend but there might be a chance for next week. With injuries, you never really know but at this stage, it looks very positive for Chris.”
“Alex Wootton is back in training so it’s great to have him back. It’s the first time that he’ll be training fully with the squad today. Brian Scott played with the A’s while we were away and one or two club games so it’s great to have him back, Conor Oliver is back so the squad in itself is in a good state of health.
“The most important thing now is to get back into the swing of things for this massive block that’s coming up and to integrate our international players as quickly as possible back into our squad.”