Friday 20 April 2018

Van Graan demands an 80-minute effort

Munster 39 Connacht 13

Darren O'Shea scores Munster's first try despite the efforts of Cillian Gallagher. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Darren O'Shea scores Munster's first try despite the efforts of Cillian Gallagher. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

"I think it was a kinda 60-minute performance," Johann van Graan says, perfectly summing up Munster's bonus-point win over Connacht.

Having watched his side play well for 40 minutes against Leinster and Ulster, Van Graan demanded major improvements, and while he got that to a large extent, the overall performance was still some way short of what Munster are capable of.

At the same time, they didn't want to peak too soon, before Sunday's crucial Champions Cup meeting with Racing in Paris.

The French side are unlikely to crumble as easily as Connacht did at Thomond Park, especially in their own back yard, so Munster have plenty of work to do on the training ground this week.

They outscored Connacht by five tries to one, despite only leading 10-6 at the break. The hosts' scrum creaked in the early stages before it was solidified, while their error count in a disjointed first-half display will also have to be reduced.

This weekend's clash is 'do or die' for Racing and Van Graan is adamant that nothing less than an 80-minute performance will suffice in the French capital.

Munster’s Andrew Conway goes over to score his side’s second try despite the tackle of Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran. Photo: MATT BROWNE/SPORTSFILE
Munster’s Andrew Conway goes over to score his side’s second try despite the tackle of Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran. Photo: MATT BROWNE/SPORTSFILE

Insisted

"Yes, I do (believe so)," the Munster boss insisted. "I think if you look at the context of our pool; Racing are four points behind us, they will also want to stay in this competition.

"If we beat them I believe we will get through the pool. If we don't, we will have to get back here to Thomond Park the following week (against Castres).

"To win in France - we drew there earlier in the season - so to win there against top-quality opposition you will need an 80-minute performance with all 23 of your players."

Keith Earls is tackled by Connacht's Quinn Roux. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Keith Earls is tackled by Connacht's Quinn Roux. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

The inter-pro series didn't go according to plan for Munster but they did at least win their first derby of the season to give Van Graan his first taste of an inter-pro victory.

Injury problems have slowly been mounting but Van Graan was able to welcome back Chris Farrell and man-of-the-match Conor Oliver from injury. To add to that, Jack O'Donoghue has rediscovered his mojo and was outstanding on Saturday night.

Munster might not have put a complete performance together over their last three games but against an undercooked Connacht, they showed signs they are hitting their straps again.

"It is obviously very nice to firstly enjoy a win and get two days away from the game," Van Graan maintained.

"It was quite an intense period for all the teams in Ireland so we'll take two days away from the game and reassemble on Tuesday. Obviously to start a week with a win is always nice.

Ian Keatley kicks a penalty for Munster. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ian Keatley kicks a penalty for Munster. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

"This game in terms of the bigger picture, it's a thing of the past now. Europe's a totally different competition. We're playing against a side (Racing) that's got a different complexity about them. You just have to look at the game earlier in the season.

"That was zero-all at half time. They play the game a lot different to what we faced over the past few weeks, so I don't think this game will have any bearing on next Sunday at all."

Fears are growing that Tyler Bleyendaal could be facing another six to eight weeks out with his neck injury and while that would be a serious blow to Munster, it is at least softened by Ian Keatley's fine form.

The out-half kicked 14 points and controlled the tempo for his side, while his half-back partner Conor Murray stamped his class all over proceedings with an assured performance that included two tries.

Connacht's Caolin Blade is tackled by Conor Murray and Darren O'Shea. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Connacht's Caolin Blade is tackled by Conor Murray and Darren O'Shea. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

By the time Murray wrapped up the bonus point on 64 minutes, after earlier scores from Darren O'Shea, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway, who caused problems all evening, Munster's focus had already shifted to the Champions Cup.

Murray added a fifth try before he was replaced and wrapped in cotton wool.

Tom McCartney's score at the death, which was converted by Craig Ronaldson to go with Jack Carty's six earlier points, failed to put any respectability on a one-sided second half.

The final scoreline might have been a lot worse for the Westerners had Quinn Roux been shown a red card for a dangerous tip tackle on Earls, shortly after the hour mark. Connacht will be sweating over the citing commissioner's take on the incident.

"You have to give credit to Connacht," Van Graan added.

Confidence

"I think they are a quality side. They came with a lot of confidence to Thomond Park and to be fair to them, I think they contributed to a very good contest.

"They came out fighting as well. They posed some real threats, especially around the breakdown.

"The biggest (pleasing) thing was not the attack; I thought we defended really well. I thought we got a lot of width, good decision-making, you know, when to go for the ball and when not to, and then if you picked it up at the end we played with 14 men.

"Andrew Conway left the field because he had an injury and we didn't want to risk Peter O'Mahony to put him on the field.

"So I said to the guys, 'we're going to give you a challenge and defend with 14 men even though we didn't have a yellow card, and I thought we did really well.

"Maybe the score ballooned a bit at the end, but we will take our tries, take our bonus point, enjoy the win and go right back to zero on Tuesday morning and start planning for the next one."

Munster - S Zebo (D Sweetnam 61); A Conway, C Farrell (B Johnston 65), R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams 70); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 52), R Marshall (M Sherry 61), J Ryan (S Archer 52); J Kleyn (R Copeland 66), D O'Shea; J O'Donoghue, C Oliver, CJ Stander (capt).

Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun (D Leader 61), E Griffin, P Ahki, M Healy; J Carty (C Ronaldson 66), C Blade (J Mitchell 68); P McCabe (C O'Donnell 75), T McCartney, C Carey (F Bealham 57); Q Roux, J Cannon (G Thornbury h-t); C Gallagher, J Butler, J Muldoon (capt) (P Boyle 57).

Ref - D Wilkinson (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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