Tuesday 22 January 2019

Munster coach Johann van Graan responds to accusations from Leicester camp after thumping win at Thomond Park

Munster 33 Leicester Tigers 10

Simon Zebo of Munster goes over to score his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup
Simon Zebo of Munster goes over to score his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup
David Kelly

David Kelly

Munster coach Johann van Graan played down accusations from Leicester counterpart Matt O'Connor that his side were cynical at the breakdown during his side's comprehensive 33-10 Champions Cup win at Thomond Park.

A scintillating opening half-hour laid the basis for the win, tries from Rhys Marshall and Simon Zebo, aided by four successful Ian Keatley kicks, helping Munster build a 20-0 lead which rarely looked like being threatened.

They did lose Andrew Conway to a sickening second-half concussion following a collision but, on a bitterly cold evening, second-half tries from Peter O'Mahony and Chris Cloete completed the full set.

Yet it was the post match comments of Leicester coach O'Connor that provided a talking point, with Van Graan quick to offer this repost:

“The breakdown was a big focus for us, we adapted to the referee quite well, our physicality was very good there," said the new Munster coach.

“Whoever adapts better to the referee performs better, there were 50-50 decisions. The referee handled the game very well.

"We started the game pretty well, we're happy with the win and the bonus point. There a lot of things we can do well but we have areas we can improve. On Monday we will start again from zero.

“But I enjoyed the day and the people from Munster and I most enjoyed the way we defended the line late on.”

Munster were superb in every facet of play; Leicester were ragged and rudderless from the off.

With a handful of debutants tasting European action for the first time, a relatively untested midfield passing the test with flying colours, this was a wonderful night for Johann van Graan, the Munster coach also making his European bow.

Unlike last season, Munster will be conscious of not allowing the Tigers to earn revenge next week; they don't look half as well equipped to do so and were so poor here. Munster are now in control of their European destiny as they seek to at least emulate last season's semi-final appearance.

Munster and Leicester doing battle at Thomond Park

Once regarded as European heavyweights, the yawning gap between Munster's 2008 success, the fourth shared equally between the sides in a seven year period at the start of the century, had reduced them to the ranks of middleweights since.

Munster have been more than capable of landing a punch or three since then without convincing they have enough to deliver a knock-out blow.

Victory here, especially after Racing 92 dropped crucial points in Castres just a half-hour before when failing to land an equalising penalty goal, would be crucial to this season's ambitions.

Despite the unseemly late kick-off, the throaty hordes packed the famous ground though some empty seats perhaps owed more to the inclement driving conditions than a lack of willing support.

Those who did were rewarded with a stunning opening from both sides; Munster put Leicester into bat by winning the toss and allowing the visitors to kick of into the wind and they eagerly ran everything.

Munster joined in too, with Rory Scannell effecting a delicious pass as the game opened at a terrific pace.

They took the lead in the eighth minute thanks to Andrew Conway's surging run, collecting Telusa Veainu's poor kick ahead, the winger setting off on a mazy run from inside his own half until being scragged by George Ford.

Munster made territorial hay and, though they got within two metres of the try-line thanks to surges from CJ Stander, Dave Kilcoyne and Billy Holland, they had to make do with an Ian Keatley penalty.

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With boots and scrum caps littering the turf, it was an early warning shot in an already pulsating battle between these old foes.

Leicester were all temp but Munster tackled ferociously and were able to thieve enough ball on the floor with better contested rucks to negate the attacking threat, although there was one scare when Keatley whacked his knee in a tackle attempt on Jonny May.

One such breakdown success, when Leicester were isolated without numbers in the ruck, forced a penalty which gave Munster the territory to score their first try.

Munster drove a lineout maul and, although Rhys Marshall was stopped once, Leicester weren't able to stop him a second time when he took a super line off Conor Murray and, as the ball momentarily bobbled in his hands, the defence stopped but the Kiwi hooker did not.

Keatley's extras added value to a more than sufficient 10-0 ahead as we edged into the second quarter.

It remained hot and heavy, Jerome Garces warning Conor Murray and Dan Cole - “You are not friends, no?” - as Leicester reacted sternly to being done once more on the floor.

Again, Keatley punished them with a superb penalty no the 10-metre line into the swirling breeze; now a 13-0 lead with 13 first-half minutes remaining.

By the half-hour the game was always up and Munster produced yet against from a Leicester attack and once again from a breakdown success, Peter O'Mahony's steal aided by Billy Holland's physicality, deep in their half.

A stunning lineout beyond the tail, targeting Rory Scannell of all people, explained sheer intent and they maximised it.

Chris Cloete, an emerging cult hero, acted at nine twice as Munster probed, before Keatley delivered a superb chip through which was gathered and finished with consummate class by Simon Zebo.

Munster were now threatening another whitewash, 20-0 up just after the half-hour.

Leicester needed a quick response but strong Munster defence – with CJ Stander cynically not rolling away in front of the posts – reduced the recovery effort to a mere Ford penalty.

But it was cancelled out from the restart, the eagle-eyed TMO spotting Tom Ford's vapid grab on Cleote's neck at a ruck; Keatley nailed the punishment to restore the 20-point gap, 23-3.

Tom Youngs, at fault for the first try, was then fingered a second time for a late hit, this time on Stander, but referee Garces only awarded a penalty. The visiting captain's ill discipline was symbolic of his side's raggedness as his men trooped off for the half-time oranges.

Munster continued their ascendancy; Jean Kleyn was ripped on the line by a combination of Leicester back-row pair Tino Mapapalangi and Sione Kalafamoni.

They did suffer a blow to that momentum when Andrew Conway was concussed after a sickening collision with Telusa Veainu in the 46th minute; both men left immediately, Conway on a stretcher.

Munster continued unchecked, playing smart territory and waiting for inevitable mistakes. When it came, they pounced for the third try, Peter O'Mahony getting his first of the season in the 58th minute.

Cleote's pass, as a de facto scrum-half, set up the sweeping move from right to left, with Zebo expertly cutting down the defensive space before replacement Darren Sweetnam made the final pace to O'Mahony.

Another couple of euro, if it were needed, added to his value, perhaps.

The bonus point had been in view for quite a while now.

However, Leicester, after Rhys Marshall denied Mike Williams a driving lineout try, finally got their first try when Harry Thacker succeeded with the aid of his driving pack.

Ford's conversion made it 28-10 with 15 minutes left.

Munster were only slightly distracted and moments later set up a driving lineout of their own, from which they did finally get their bonus point, when all-action Cleote touched down beneath a bevvy of red beef.

Leicester had been gobbled whole.

Munster - S Zebo; A Conway (D Sweetnam 46), S Arnold, R Scannell; A Wootton; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams 73); D Kilcoyne (B Scott 55), R Marshall (K O'Byrne 71), S Archer (J Ryan 61), J Kleyn (D O'Shea 70), B Holland, P O'Mahony captain (J O'Donoghue 72), C Cloete, CJ Stander.

Leicester Tigers - T Veainu (N Malouf.46); A Thompstone, M Smith, M Tait (J Ford 74), J May; G Ford, B Youngs (S Harrison 71); K Traynor (L Mulipola 51), T Youngs captain (H Thacker 63), D Cole (C Baumann 72), M Fitzgerald (D Barrow 51), G Kitchener, T Mapapalangi (M Williams 63), L Hamilton, S Kalafamoni.

Referee – Jerome Garces (France)

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