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URC Champions Munster head coach Graham Rowntree laments latest injuries

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Tuesday Jan 2, 2024

In the aftermath of yet another challenging encounter, Munster Rugby’s Head Coach, Graham Rowntree, expressed his discontent with the team’s predicament as injuries continue to plague their roster.

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The recent casualties, tighthead Oli Jager and No.8 Jack O’Donoghue, were both stretchered off during the first half of Munster’s URC clash with Connacht at the Sportsground in Galway, as they joined Munster’s already extensive list of sidelined players.

Rowntree grimly acknowledged the toll these injuries have taken on the team, emphasising the significant contributions that Jager and O’Donoghue had made before their untimely exits.

“They’re not in a great state. Oli sustained a head injury from a strange looking tackle that was apparently checked (by the TMO), and then Jack O’Donoghue got cleared out, a horrible side entry and his knee got twisted. It’s not great if I’m honest with you.

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“Two injuries we didn’t need. They didn’t look great, in my opinion, but it’s not why we lost the game. We lost the game because we lost control of it, particularly in the last 10 minutes, where we were starved of field position.

“We’ve had injuries, but we’ve got guys who have been able to train with us every day. Our training is set up for a next man-up mentality. It didn’t help losing those two guys today, I’m not going to lie. They were significant performers for us.”

Despite the setbacks, Rowntree maintained that the injuries were not the sole reason for Munster’s recent struggles, pointing out a lapse in control during the crucial last 10 minutes of the game.

The match itself was played under challenging conditions, and Munster found themselves grappling with possession issues, particularly in the second half. Rowntree lamented the team’s loss of tactical direction, revealing that they had been managing the game effectively until a pivotal moment around the 71st minute when things took a turn for the worse.

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“Terrible conditions. We were starved of possession, particularly in that second half. Until about ten minutes to go, we were managing the game quite well.

“We just needed to find a way to get upfield. But then we lost our way. We lost our way tactically in the middle of their field there around 71 minutes. And then we were trying to force the game. And then the next thing you know, we’ve had everything taken away from us. Bonus point. Hugely disappointing.

“Player wise, I’ve a dressing-room who are down. We have a couple of days off, which we need physically as much as mentally. And then we will reconvene on Thursday with a view to reviewing the game and looking forward to next week. I’ll have more news on the guys from today and the two who pulled out.”

Munster’s woes were further compounded by difficulties in the lineout, where they lost over half a dozen of their throws. Despite acknowledging the challenges faced by certain players due to limited game time, Rowntree refrained from singling out individuals for blame.

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“I’m not going to pinpoint the loss on any one individual, or one moment in the game. We have got guys functioning in positions without a lot of game-time which matters in certain positions. But I’m not going to look to that for excuses. January, we have a lot to play for.

“We move into a different competition now, then back in the URC at the end of the month. And hopefully, we can have a few more bodies back on deck, we hope. We drive on; that’s what you do. Dust yourself down take the game apart. Tactically look at what we can do better. We have young men navigating us around the field for the best part of 80 minutes there and doing a job. But then we have to look at the last ten minutes.

“They stopped us getting into their 22. The breakdown was fierce, the scrum from them towards the end and JJ, with the win behind him, kicked very well. And obviously, our lineout fell apart at the end of the game. And they scored and took everything away from us.”

Looking ahead, Rowntree expressed the team’s determination to regroup and analyze their performance. Munster faces a busy schedule in January, with a shift back to the Investec Champions Cup before returning to the United Rugby Championship at the end of the month. Rowntree remains optimistic that additional players will be available, providing much-needed reinforcement to the beleaguered squad.

As Munster rugby navigates a challenging phase, Rowntree emphasised the importance of maintaining resilience, learning from setbacks, and focusing on the tasks at hand. The team will take a brief break before reconvening to review the game, assess player status, and strategise for the upcoming challenges on the horizon.

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