Tuesday 19 March 2019

I haven't heard about many heroes born in a time of peace - Van Graan

Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo going through their paces at Munster training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo going through their paces at Munster training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Familiar territory for Munster, this. A 17th European quarter-final - a tournament record - yet, for all their pedigree, a well-thumbed narrative will preface the challenge which starkly outlines their current difficulties.

Although the popular money has not - yet - leaned definitively towards either side, few would be confident of gainsaying the prospects of the revitalised three-time champions Toulon.

It's not just their irrepressible Stade Mayol slaying of Clermont on Sunday night; Munster's physical well-being is more at issue.

If Toulon are in rude health, Munster are positively blighted by injury.


Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway may not know until the middle of this week whether they can feature, likewise Rory Scannell as his return-to-play protocols post-head injury continue.

Chris Cloete is sidelined, so too Chris Farrell, Jaco Taute, Keith Earls and Tyler Bleyendaal.

It is not inconceivable that all eight would start were they fit enough to do so; for that reason alone, you sense Zebo and Conway will play even if not displaying a comprehensive bill of health, despite Johann van Graan's assertions to the contrary.

After all, 100pc fitness is impossible in rugby; however, 100pc commitment is certainly attainable and Munster know they must attain those heights to prevail, whoever lines out in red and however they manage to do so.

Only those who remain can carry the battle for those who remain invalided.

"The opportunity of a lifetime lasts as long as the lifetime of the opportunity," says Van Graan, who, for all his experience of World Cup semi-finals and Super Rugby finals, may never quite have experienced the unique atmosphere of Limerick on a knockout weekend.

Especially when they are rated as underdogs, less powerful and less skilful then their all-dancing, all-pummelling foes, leaving them with only one way to succeed.

"The Munster way," Van Graan trumpets. "Rugby games are won in the hearts of men. Back the people of Munster to pull us through.

"There are goosebumps when I say things like this but sport is about doing the unthinkable, going to where other teams aren't prepared to go. You want to go to war with warriors.

"I saw warriors this morning and everyone is ready to go. Saying those things like 'put your body on the line', 'work-rate off the ball', these get tested in games like Saturday. That's what Munster is about."

Nonetheless, they would much rather have more warriors accompanied by their shields to give them not only more than a fighting chance but also the opportunity to land a knockout blow. Returning Grand Slam stars Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray and CJ Stander will necessarily raise the standards but their side requires someone to emerge from the pack - or the back - to become an unlikely hero.

"Yeah, that's what dreams are made of," muses Van Graan, who must at least have been encouraged by how his effective shadow squad eventually navigated a weekend victory path against Scarlets.

"I haven't heard about a lot of heroes that were born in times of peace. In big games, you want guys to come through and win the games.

"There are so many opportunities, guys are playing for the first time in big games. I think it was proved on Saturday.

"Saturday wasn't about individual performances against Scarlets, it was a battle, we met what came our way front on.


"Maybe one pass, one kick through, one decisive tackle would be the difference and it might be remembered, it might come down to one player, one moment."

The team being Munster, they will hope the historical gods will fate them even if the injury odds are not.

In their previous nine home quarter-finals, they have only lost once to Ulster in 2012 and they also hold the record for the most quarter-final wins with 12.

"We've got 80 minutes of rugby," adds Van Graan. "Even the small crowd that came out on Saturday at Thomond Park, they made a lot of noise. That's why you work for home-ground advantage. We'll use the home crowd but we've got to play well as well.

"We've got to be smart, we've got to execute, we've got to be physical and we've got to win big moments.

"Hopefully when that ball goes up into the air we can get some momentum."

Irish Independent

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