Euro spotlight: Ackermann versus Van Graan
CHAMPIONS CUP ROUND FIVE: Two candidates for the Springbok coaching job, when Rassie Erasmus steps down in 2020, will go head-to-head in a crunch match this week.
Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester will look to end their losing streak when they host Johann van Graan’s Munster at Kingsholm Stadium on Friday.
It is a crucial fixture for both teams.
The Irish province, Munster, sits top of Pro14’s Conference A, as well as the Champions Cup Pool Two.
However, they could surrender first place in the latter if they are beaten by Gloucester, who are four points off the pace in fourth place of a very tight pool.
Gloucester, fourth in the Premiership, are coming off back-to-back losses – 15-30 to Sale Sharks in their last match of 2018 and 16-34 to Leicester Tigers in their first match of 2019.
In contrast, Munster is coming off impressive wins over Leinster (26-17), to close out 2018, and Connacht (31-24), to open 2019.
The Munster coach, Van Graan believes his side’s Round Five and Six matches against Gloucester and Exeter Chiefs will provide “incredible challenges” for the Irish province.
“[We have] Gloucester away next and that is probably the game of the season for us thus far in the Champions Cup,” the 38-year-old told the Irish Times.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) January 7, 2019
The Gloucester coach, Ackermann, remains optimistic about his side’s chances of reaching the quarterfinals, despite the English club lying bottom of Pool Two.
The South African says the Cherry and Whites still want to be part of the competition but accepts their 17-29 defeat to Exeter Chiefs in Round 4 was “a bit of a blow”.
“It’s going to be challenging for us now to be involved, but we’ll take it when we get to that next hurdle with Munster at home and see where we are, and reassess what we need to do,” Ackermann told Gloucestershire Live.
“I think as long as Munster are doing their bit and keep winning, it’s going to be hard to catch them.
“It was a bit of a blow, because we took a lot of confidence after Round Three and were not there [in Round Four].
“We still want to be part of this tournament in terms of being competitive and a lot can happen, so we’ll see what happens in that game.
“But the reality is we’ve let one slip. It’s gone and we can’t change it.”
Munster are likely to still be without their South African loose forward Chris Cloete (neck), who will be reintegrated into team training this week.
John Ryan has completed the HIA process and has been cleared to train, after being injured against Connacht.
Chris Farrell suffered a right knee injury and is being assessed by the medical department.
JJ Hanrahan is also being assessed by the medical department for a left hip injury.
Sources: Irish Times & Gloucestershire Live