Time for Ahern to get a chance
WHAT a heartbreaker that was for RG Snyman last weekend, to wreck his cruciate ligament seven minutes into his Munster debut.
It’s a disaster for the man himself, for the province, for the strength of Irish rugby in general and for South Africa who, with the word being that it’s a 12-month injury, won’t have Snyman for the Lions Tests next July.
When you see a 21st, 6’ 10” rugby player fall the way Snyman did you know it is bad news. And a midweek scan soon confirmed the worst. Munster will now have to wait a year to get a return on a player who was just what their pack needed.
We saw him at the World Cup last year, when he was one of South Africa’s ‘finishers’, the four players who would bolster their already physical pack with fresh legs and lungs for the last quarter of each game.
How coach Rassie Erasmus’ plan worked. South Africa finished every game strong – with Snyman winning lineouts and making powerful charges against jaded opposition who wilted in the face of the challenge.
It’s no criticism of the current second rows, but Snyman is just the sort of player in that area Munster have lacked since Paul O’Connell left.
And he would have played for the province a lot when two other second rows, Tadhg Beirne and Jean Kleyn, were on Ireland duty.
Mind you, there must be a doubt about that Ireland autumn series going ahead now that Japan have pulled out, citing coronavirus fears.
But it is when Ireland are playing that Snyman will be missed most of all.
Still, opportunity knocks now for others. Beirne (ankle) has returned for today’s game with Connacht and hopefully Kleyn (neck) will be back soon. Though I always worry about players with neck injuries. With the pressure put on in scrums, especially, doctors are rightly careful about letting any player who had a neck injury back on the pitch.
Billy Holland, the warhorse, is another option for the Munster second row and maybe it is time to throw 20-year-old Thomas Ahern into the line-up.
We saw Ryan Baird have a huge match for Leinster last weekend, and he’s only 21. Now, even one year can make a huge difference when it comes to the physical development of a young rugby player.
But Ahern was outstanding for Ireland Under-20s last season and he’s a great talent. He’s learning his rugby at Shannon, a good grounding place for any young second row, if I may say so! Munster might have to pitch young Ahern in a few times in PRO14 matches. I think he’ll thrive.
Snyman’s injury is just the latest injury setback for Munster with out-half Joey Carbery now seemingly out of the frame for another few months.
But there were good signs even in the defeat to Leinster who Munster will surely face next weekend again in the PRO14 semi-final in the Aviva Stadium.
For one thing Craig Casey, at 21, showed that there is life at scrum-half when Conor Murray goes. Casey has a spark about him that I like and he moves the ball on quickly.
Then there’s Chris Farrell, who had a big game for the Reds against Leinster, after a couple of injury-disrupted seasons for the big centre. He could revel in the freedom that playing beside Snyman’s compatriot Damian de Allende will bring.
De Allende is going to be closely watched by opponents, so Farrell is going to get an extra yard of space every now and again – and he’s good enough and skilled enough to use it.
Chris is good enough, too, to force his way into the Ireland reckoning over the next few months, even if none of Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw or Bundee Aki will want to make way for him in the green shirt.
With wingers Keith Earls (inset) and Andrew Conway scoring tries last week, things have turned around in the Munster tradition. Now we’ve backs who can do damage, but the province’s power forwards are in dry dock. Well, I suppose it’s in keeping with the year that’s in it.
Seeing Earls get that fine try last weekend set me thinking as to whether he could be a Lions tourist next summer, 12 years, yes 12 years, after he first wore the famous red shirt.
Keith went to South Africa with the Lions in 2009 as a 21-year-old. He was injured when the squad to go to Australia in 2013 was being picked and four years later, he was one of the last players left out by Warren Gatland as he chose the crew to go to New Zealand.
It was a decision Gatland admitted he got wrong, that he could have done with Earls’ ability to strike against the Kiwis.
For the last two years, the Moyross man has been as consistent as any winger in these islands. A bit more of that form for the next few months, and surely Keith would travel. He’d then be one of the small number of players who have been Lions twice – but against the same opposition each time.