Wednesday 11 December 2019

Van Graan hails Reds' depth after tough battle

Ospreys 13 Munster 32

Flying high: Munster centre Rory Scannell is tackled by Dan Lydiate of Ospreys during Saturday’s clash in the Liberty Stadium. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Flying high: Munster centre Rory Scannell is tackled by Dan Lydiate of Ospreys during Saturday’s clash in the Liberty Stadium. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If you were looking for the perfect launching pad for Munster against Racing in Thomond Park on Saturday then the endgame in the Liberty Stadium should fire your engines.

It was epic Munster, a throwback to their best days on the road in Europe. That the prize was a bonus point rather than securing the win was neither here nor there. One minute the Ospreys were scoring a try that reflected the savage effort they had put in over the course of 79 minutes.

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Some time later - it felt like quite a bit later - James Cronin was at the heart of a Munster maul that turned four match points into five.

"This is such an amazing competition," Johann van Graan said. "You don't know what's going to happen in the next five rounds. You have to do what you can, control what you can. That point might prove to be a difference. We'll go to next week again. We're at home."

The last bit was less a revelation about where the game will take place and more a declaration of what is expected. And you'd imagine the coach was talking to Racing as much as the Munster players and supporters, a good number of whom made the trip to Swansea.

So with that game in mind Munster came through a very physical, full-on contest - they were dealing almost exclusively in one-out brawn themselves in the first 40 minutes, at the end of which they were 13-6 ahead - in good nick. And they produced the man of the match in loosehead Jeremy Loughman, making his first start in the Heineken Champions Cup.

CJ Stander claims a lineout. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
CJ Stander claims a lineout. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

The Athy man carried tirelessly, and it was his try that first opened the door for Munster shortly before the break. The scrums were such a mess it was hard to see how he got on, and no one found it harder than referee Karl Dickson. There was no grey area around Loughman in the loose however. It was the sort of game young props dream of when they're doing all that visualisation stuff.

"He was actually the first guy I signed at Munster," Van Graan said. "He came to Munster, fought his way into contention. Killer (Dave Kilcoyne) is injured at this stage and Jeremy is performing and improving. It's great to see guys getting their opportunities and using it.

Difference

"We, as a group, say it's a squad effort from everyone involved, so when you get your chance you've got to make a difference. Congrats to Jeremy on getting this opportunity and coming up with a man-of-the-match performance. But I think he'll be the first to admit it was a tough battle. The pack did pretty well - we put the lineout under pressure and like Pete (O'Mahony) said the scrum was a massive battle, the gain-line was a massive battle and the maul was a battle."

Keith Earls dives over to score Munster's second try despite the tackle of Hanno Dirksen. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Keith Earls dives over to score Munster's second try despite the tackle of Hanno Dirksen. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

For Munster, half the battle these days is to look like a side who can actually use their set-piece to deliver something tangible. There are definite signs of life there, so the rest of this European pool phase will be interesting to see what they can deliver. And for who might be delivering it.

We wondered if Rory Scannell might shift to 10 from 12 if the bonus had come earlier, but the heat of the game didn't allow for that. So the fitness of the hamstrung JJ Hanrahan for Saturday is high on the agenda.

"The only update I can give is he actually ran pretty well with the medical team this week," Van Graan said.

"It's not serious. There's a good possibility that he could be available next week. He stayed behind with our staff at the High Performance Centre and hopefully we will get some good feedback on Monday and we'll give him every chance again to be available. Should he be available, we'll most likely pick him in the 23. He's done really well in a week so hopefully we'll have him available but don't want to speculate on it, we'll see how it goes on Monday."

Ospreys' Luke Price is stopped in his tracks by Jean Kleyn, left, and Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ospreys' Luke Price is stopped in his tracks by Jean Kleyn, left, and Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Munster need good news on that front because the optimum is to keep Rory Scannell at inside centre where his left peg is so useful. Against Ospreys, it was noticeable how the footballing load was shared across Conor Murray, Tyler Bleyendaal, Scannell and Mike Haley.

On the back of a set-piece with more content now in the playbook that's a useful development. And you could see it in the tries for Keith Earls and Cronin, especially the former where a lovely lineout peel by Tommy O'Donnell, who had a fine game, opened the door to the try finished on the far side by the wing.

It had to be batted over to the TMO and had he come back with thumbs down not too many in red would have argued. Ospreys didn't grumble too much themselves afterwards. They hadn't started the night thinking they would win so they were able to cope with the defeat.

But they gave it everything. Meantime, in the red corner it's about building some back-up, which the Ospreys would love. "Yeah. We as a group spoke inside about depth and having Shane Daly and Ben Healy here for the experience and Finian (Wycherley) and Jack (O'Donoghue), they didn't even make the 23 this weekend. You need depth in this competition and just looking ahead at what's ahead, Racing, one of the (best) sides of European rugby, next week.

"Then we've got Edinburgh in Cork and Saracens home and away; then three interpros against Connacht, Leinster and Ulster and then two more European games. So you can never have enough players of quality and that was one of the things we ID'ed (identified) two years ago, We've got to improve as a squad.

A thumbs up from Peter O'Mahony at the end of the game. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
A thumbs up from Peter O'Mahony at the end of the game. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

"The most important thing from a coaching point of view, what's very satisfying is someone like Jeremy, came in from nowhere - two years of development and now he's man of the match in a Champions Cup game as a starter. From a coaching point of view, it's so nice to see."

They have taken the scenic route to this point. A bit to go yet.

Ospreys - C Evans (J Hook 62); H Dirksen, T Thomas-Wheeler, S Williams (K Williams 60), T Williams; L Price, S Venter (A Davies 51); R Jones (N Smith 51), S Otten (I Phillips 60), M Fia (G Gajion 70), M Orle, L Ashley (B Davies 51), D Lydiate (capt), M Morris (S Cross 51), O Cracknell.

Munster - M Haley; A Conway (S Arnold 72), C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 68), K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray (A Mathewson 66); J Loughman, N Scannell, J Ryan (S Archer 50), J Kleyn (T Beirne 55), B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander, T O'Donnell (A Botha 59).

Ref - K Dickson (Eng)

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