Monday 16 September 2019

'We'll be back next year' - Johann van Graan says Munster will return stronger after latest semi-final loss

Munster have lost at the semi-final stage of the Champions Cup for the last three seasons. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Munster have lost at the semi-final stage of the Champions Cup for the last three seasons. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Munster coach Johann van Graan had no complaints as he left the Ricoh Arena following another crushing semi-final defeat.

Saracens proved much too strong for the Irish province who slumped to their third successive last four exit and their seventh semi-final loss since their last final appearance in 2008.

Like two years ago, the English giants were 16 points better than their opponents and they’ll take some stopping in the final in Newcastle in three weeks’ time when they’ll meet Leinster or Toulouse.

"Most disappointing aspect is that we lost the game," a crest-fallen van Graan said after the 32-16 loss.

"We came here to win. We were beaten by a better side on the day and they were really good.

"They put some scoreboard pressure on us and then we got back to 25-6, made it an nine-point game and they turned the screws on us.

"We played as well as we could. No fault of the players or the management. We did everything we could and well done to the team that beat us and won on the day.

"They were the better side on the day. There were one or two decisions went  against us. But no complaints from my side.

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"When we went down by a few points I knew that we needed to change the picture.

"That’s why I put Goggy (Dan Goggin) JJ (Hanrahan) on.

"It was a 23 man effort squad. It was  always going to be. I had to make the changes earlier than anticipated we got back into the game, nine points behind, but the pressure for their side was just too great on us."

The province’s focus will shift to the Guinness PRO14. Already in the play-offs, they face Connacht on Saturday and still have a chance of over-taking Glasgow to top Conference A and earn a home semi-final.

"It’s very important," van Graan said of the league effort.

"We said from the beginning of the pre-season we were going to take it week to week.

"We came to the semi-final of Europe and got caught short on the day.

"We've got a game against Connacht who have qualified for the PRO14 quarter-final. There is still an opportunity for the (home) semi-final. That's not in our hands.

"Then, once we are in the quarter-finals or semi-final take the game as it comes and learn from it.

"Not a lot of teams in the world put pressure like Saracens do.

"Sometimes you just got to say well done to the opposition. They did fantastically  in 2016, 2017 and lost in the quarter-final  last year.

"This year they are unbeaten (in the pool). They put 50 points on a Glasgow team that's three points ahead of us in the PRO14."

Although he was disappointed with the way things worked out, van Graan vowed that he and his side would be back for more next season.

"We weren’t good enough on the day. We got beaten by the better team so no excuses from our side. They’ve been playing some fantastic rugby, both in the Premiership and in Europe. They’ve blown everybody out of this competition at this stage," he said.

"From our side, we gave it all we got. We planned well throughout this whole campaign. There were some fantastic victories and we see getting to another semi-final as a huge positive.

"We didn’t come here today to lose but in sport a lot of times you’ve got to look your opposition in the eye and as I said to Mark afterwards, it was tough up until half-time and then you guys were just much better in the next 30 minutes. You’ve got to concede that you weren't as good as the opposition on the day.

"We’ll be back. We’ll be back in Europe next year and we’ll have to get past the pool stage to get into the play-offs again, that will be the first thing.

"This is a competition we as a club love and a special mention to all of our fans who travel all over the world and back this team through massive wins and games when we can’t get the result. As a club we’ll move forward.”

Saracens coach Mark McCall was delighted with how his team neutralised Munster’s strengths.

"What we did know is that they do their fundamentals incredibly well," he said.

"Their set-piece is outstanding. We were concerned whether we would get usable lineout ball against such a great defensive lineout but we did. Our lineout went really well today.

"They're a very impressive defensive team. It's hard to get consecutive quick ball against them. We managed to do that.

"We were very good at the breakdown today, kept some of their great players, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O'Mahony, away from slowing our ball down.

"So, we did a good job on that. But you could see the quality of their defence in the first half because we played really well with the ball but we didn't score a try because of how strong they are defensively.

"It was a wearing down process. These games take a long time to win. We felt it was building. For 'Rhodsys' (Michael Rhodes), just after half-time, I think was a result of some of the stuff that came in the first half.

"That was a 20 phase sequence where we went forward in almost every collision. Yeah, it was a good persistent performance by us today."

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