The main concern this week for Munster as they prepare for their deciding clash with the Exeter Chiefs at Thomond Park on Saturday is the fitness of captain Peter O’Mahony.
The Corkman suffered a rib injury in the bonus-point win over Gloucester at Kingsholm and head coach Johann van Graan rated O’Mahony’s chances of featuring at the weekend as “50-50, at best”.
Although O’Mahony’s absence would be a huge loss to the southern province as they look to secure qualification to the last eight of the Heineken Champions Cup, van Graan believes that the squad depth which now exists will prove crucial in getting his side over the line.
Munster can take confidence from their recent win over Leinster where O’Mahony was rested as van Graan explains.
“I know we thrive on the big occasions and big games,” van Graan told the gathered media on Monday. “We love to play at Thomond Park and we’ve got a quality squad.
“Pete’s been involved in most of the big games for the last two years. He wasn’t involved, starting against Leinster – he was involved as a water carrier.
“If it comes to that over the weekend, we’re a team who believes in the squad. I’ve said from day one, in all competitions you’re going to gain some guys and you’ll lose some guys.”
Munster have no shortage of options if O’Mahony is deemed not fit enough to play. Tadhg Beirne’s versatility means that he could slot in at six while the southern province could call on CJ Stander to shift to the blindside flanker position.
Fineen Wycherley, who was excellent against Leinster, could also take his opportunity again while Tommy O’Donnell, Chris Cloete and Arno Botha are able deputies.
“If he doesn’t play it will be a loss for the team, but I thought CJ did really well as captain against Leinster and I thought Fineen Wycherly had an excellent day.
“We have a lot of options, we have Tadhg Beirne who can play on the flank, Tommy O’Donnell might shift over, Chris Cloete and the likes of CJ and Arno who have played Test rugby in that position before.
“We have a lot of options. The most important thing is to find out how Pete is first and then look at our options and we’ll make a call on Thursday.”
O’Mahony’s injury would also be of concern to Joe Schmidt who will hope that one of his leaders will be available to face England when Ireland open their Six Nations campaign at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, February 2.