Munster boss van Graan delighted as fans give Gerbrandt Grobler a rousing welcome
Munster 33 Zebre 5
Coach Johann van Graan said he was proud of the ovation Munster supporters gave Gerbrandt Grobler when the South African made his controversial debut for the province.
Munster secured a bonus-point victory over Zebre at Thomond Park, but the loudest cheer of the night came shortly before the hour, when the South African replaced his fellow countryman Jean Kleyn.
Grobler, banned for two years for doping in South Africa, was brought on for a first appearance after the province and the IRFU released a statement earlier in the week saying they were backing him despite his suspension.
And after Grobler got to make his competitive debut Van Graan says he wants to focus on the business end of the season and not the off-field matters.
"The whole team was chuffed for Gerbrandt and John Poland to get their first caps and this was a 23-man effort and I'm very glad he came on, I thought both debutants did very well," said Van Graan.
Munster cruised to victory in Limerick but they only led 12-5 in the 53rd minute after Guglielmo Palazzani touched down.
But they scored five tries on their way to the bonus point, just as they did on November 26 at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, when they defeated Zebre 36-19.
That was the last game before Van Graan took charge of the side and he says things are going to plan after their 12th win in a row over the Italians.
"This part of the season you need your squad and we said as coaches, 'put us under pressure come that quarter-final against Toulon', and there are a few guys who made the first step tonight," said Van Graan.
Brian Scott scored his first try for Munster and Sam Arnold also scored as they held a 12-0 lead at half-time. And after a tricky first quarter in the second half, Munster re-grouped and dug in, with further efforts from Robin Copeland, replacement Rory Scannell, and Arnold again.
"We had so many changes in the team, all through front-row, throughout loose forwards, half-backs, centres, back three. A lot changes in the team.
"Every try and every victory we need to celebrate. We worked hard, let's enjoy it and get back to zero on Monday."
Munster- S Zebo; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, D Goggin (R Scannell 52), A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan (I Keatley 52), D Williams (J Poland 59); J Cronin (J Loughman 69), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 59), B Scott (J Ryan 54); J Kleyn (G Grobler 59), B Holland (capt), J O'Donoghue (D O'Callaghan 59), C Oliver, R Copeland.
Zebre- C Gaffney; G di Giulio, G Bisegni, F Afamasaga, G Venditti (R Parata 61); S Bordoli (M Azzolini 75), G Palazzani (R Raffaele 57); C Ah-Nau (A de Marchi 61), T d'Apice (L Luus 57), E Bello (R Tenga 57); D Sisi, G Biagi (capt) (L Krumow 61), R Giammarioli, J Meyer, J Tuivati (D Minnie 57).
Ref - B Whitehouse (WRU)