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Injured Chris Cloete will be a ‘massive loss’ to Munster

Johann van Graan has acknowledged the “massive loss” of Chris Cloete to the Munster cause after the openside flanker was ruled out for the rest of the season following surgery on a forearm fracture, writes Simon Lewis.

Cloete suffered the break during Munster’s Guinness PRO14 victory over Glasgow Warriors in Cork on Friday night and underwent surgery the next morning, with head coach van Graan confirming yesterday that the back-rower’s season looked to be at an end.

His absence has been tempered by the return from a shoulder injury of fellow openside Tommy O’Donnell, as well as the stellar form of Conor Oliver, as Munster face a difficult trip to Murrayfield in Edinburgh on Friday evening.

Munster will also be without hooker Niall Scannell, who damaged rib cartilage for the second time in seven weeks, but the province, second in Conference A and now 12 points behind leaders Glasgow with five games remaining before the play-offs, will have tighthead John Ryan and centre Rory Scannell available for the trip to the Scottish capital following their release from Ireland camp during this down week in the Six Nations.

Centre Sam Arnold has gone the other way to join Joe Schmidt’s mini training camp in Dublin, but will rejoin the Munster squad at its conclusion and is also available to face Edinburgh, though Cloete’s absence will cast a shadow over preparations at the province’s high-performance centre in Limerick.

“Chris is a massive loss for Munster,” said van Graan yesterday. “The operation was a success, but he is still in a pain. Luckily, he was all smiles here this morning with his arm. It went well, but it looks like it is the end of the season for Chris.

“He came to Munster this year and had a massive impact on and off the field, he is one of the characters of the team. I think the nicest thing is the way the guys embraced him after the game and even this morning. They know it’s a big loss, but that’s part and parcel of rugby, it’s the next guy’s opportunity to step up.”

O’Donnell has recovered from the AC joint injury which forced him out of the Ireland squad before the first game of the championship, while full-back/wing Andrew Conway’s knee injury, which prompted his late withdrawal from the Glasgow game, will hopefully be available for the Edinburgh clash, said van Graan.

Fellow wing Ronan O’Mahony faces another few weeks on the sidelines after injuring his shoulder in the loss at Cardiff Blues on February 17, but there was less clarity on hooker Scannell’s timeline for a return. He suffered a similar injury against Ulster on January 1 and was out for three weeks, but van Graan said: “He feels better, but still in a lot of pain. Hopefully, he will be ready for the weekend, but rib cartilage can take anything between one week or seven or eight.

“I’m not sure if it’s exactly the same spot [as the previous injury], but it’s a rib cartilage as well.”

There was one further new injury for the Munster boss to report, with academy lock Fineen Wycherley hurting his ankle playing for the Munster A/Development side against Germany’s Wild Rugby Academy on Thursday night.

While Munster prepare to move north-east towards Edinburgh this weekend, plans are being made to deal with the so-called Beast from the East, a Siberian cold snap heading to these islands this week.

With snow on the way, van Graan said Munster would not be waiting to see what happened.

“You know I love my planning, but in Ireland everything seems to be different. My first week in, there was a hurricane a few months back. People said then: ‘Don’t worry, it doesn’t get worse than that.’ Then you get weeks like this.

“Niall [O’Donovan], our manager, has already looked at all possible scenarios. Nobody knows exactly how it is going to pan out. Even at our meeting this morning in terms of a player group, we said whatever happens to the weather, we will take it in our stride. Even if we need to take a bus and a ferry to Edinburgh we will enjoy that as well.”

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.