Munster may plunge into transfer market as Erasmus looks for 13 cover

MUNSTER DIRECTOR OF rugby Rassie Erasmus says the province might have to take another plunge into the transfer market after the loss of Francis Saili for up to four months.

Saili was forced to undergo surgery for a second time on his shoulder injury on Monday and faces a race to be fit to return before Christmas.

All Black-capped centre Saili has been ruled out. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Erasmus said switching Keith Ealrs back into the centre is an option, but he will take a good look at the depth of his squad in Friday’s pre-season warm-up against Zebre, and again the following weekend against Worcester in Cork. However, if he cannot identify a suitable replacement for Saili in-house, he may be forced to look elsewhere.

“I think the next two warm-up games will definitely be a gauge for us to see will we be okay in that area into the season. If we’re not we’ll obviously have to make a plan,” said Erasmus.

“I don’t like just bringing in guys for the sake of it, they must really be better. I think the boys we have here have two weeks to prove themselves in that position. They’re certainly going to have time and they all can see there’s an opportunity now, so they know there’s no reason why they should not take that opportunity.

“If in these two weeks nobody puts up their hands and really grabs that opportunity then for sure we’ll have to.”

Johnny Holland is one player that stepped forward last season and proved his class, eventually forcing his way into the starting number 10 shirt for the run-in. He is still suffering from a hamstring issue and misses this game, but Tyler Bleyendaal could be fit to return next weekend against Worcester.

And Erasmus could hand a debut to former Limerick minor hurler Conor Fitzgerald – currently one of two fit out-halves in the squad along with Ian Keatley – who could follow his brother Stephen and make his bow with the Munster senior team.

“Young fly-half Conor Fitzgerald is going to do well,” said Erasmus. “He’s been training from the beginning with us but he’s a young guy. He’s going to get an opportunity this weekend and sometimes guys like that get an opportunity and they just take it.

Erasmus at the University of Limerick yesterday. Source: 16/82016

“There’s also pressure on some guys like that to come and perform all of a sudden. So the potential it’s there but injury-wise it’s a bit of a worry for us.

“Tyler is up to play next weekend against Worcester, so that will be good. Keats is playing this weekend and then Bill Johnston, I think October he should be fit.”

Without Saili to call on for the first four months of the season, there might be a temptation to push Keith Earls back into action in the centre when he becomes available, but Erasmus admits he is loathe to do so. The likes of Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell and Cian Bohane could feature in Waterford, but the new head man is keeping his options open.

“When I came here I didn’t think 10 and 13 would be a problem, depth-wise, so it was a bit of a surprise. But otherwise, apart from that, if there wasn’t injuries I think there’s potential in the squad there, but it is a bit of a blow.

“To be honest I thought Earlsie must settle on the wing when I came here, but now the landscape has changed. I don’t think we want to do that until we say: ‘listen boys, you have got an opportunity as centres. You are young guys coming through and one or two guys coming back from injury.

“So if they put up their hands, then he (Earls) can stay at wing where he is most comfortable. That will be first choice.

“But if push comes to shove and we have to make one or two forced changes then we’ll have to do that. But it’s wonderful to have a guy like him that can slot in there.”

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