Sunday 20 October 2019

Van Graan hoping for some belated ref justice

Munster coach still ‘believes in the sport’ despite ugly Castres approach

Proud coach: Johann van Graan was delighted by the discipline his players showed against Castres. Photo: Sportsfile
Proud coach: Johann van Graan was delighted by the discipline his players showed against Castres. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Johann van Graan isn't biting which, come to think of it, is perhaps the only crime against rugby that remained - allegedly - beyond the reaches of a Castres side which seemed to take the art of bending the rule of law to almost Uri Geller proportions.

More than once yesterday, Alan Quinlan, currently of this parish and once of Munster, fulminated furiously when assessing the lengthy rap sheet being prepared in EPCR HQ as Saturday's video nasty was being paused and rewound in the quest for justice.

It is a search the Munster coach feels perhaps confident will unearth the rightful application of justice; anything else, one suspects, would be well, a disgrace.

"The only thing I can say is it was a game of rugby," says Van Graan, when prompted to add his voice to the chorus of voices from the past.

"We stuck to the values of rugby. There are processes in place, we can look at it and learn from it and move on. We can't control anything apart from that."

Sceptics might argue that Munster's passivity after the match was mirrored on it.

For all their commendable attitude, it would have been difficult to see players like Quinlan and his merry band of comrades standing idly by while their team-mates were getting it in the neck, shoulder or, indeed, the eye.

Nonetheless, Munster had little need to stoop so low perhaps, especially when they had numerous chances to win the game within the rules, maybe another reason why the camp remained stoically unwilling to fan the flames of this perennially feisty Anglo-French fire-fight.

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"Every game of rugby is different. Things happen in a game and the spirit of rugby is important, the values of the game.

"I'm proud of the way our players behaved on the field. You've got to adapt in the game, with certain incidents we didn't adapt and that's a learning from our side. That game is behind us now."

But given his adherence to the gospel of the game's "spirit", surely these events have sullied the sport?

"I'm a believer in this game, that is why I am in it," he declares of a sport which, Brian O'Driscoll pointedly reminded everyone, is not 'football'.

"You play it to the best of your ability and we respect our opponents every single week. After the game, you move on."

Having taken their beating, Munster have tried to do just that but they are not entirely divorced from the delayed application of justice.

Part of the post-match process involves Munster passing on incidents within 26 hours of kick-off for the citing commissioner to observe and it was clear that Van Graan had naturally accepted that standing invitation.

And, although reserving direct criticism of referee Wayne Barnes, he also was minded to query the English official's adjudication of a crucial second-half set of four scrums which Munster won against the head.

"There will be incidents looked at after the right processes are followed," he says, the same answer proffered when asked directly about the allegation of gouging on Chris Cloete by Rory Kockott.

"And also every week we speak about the referee. I didn't have an issue with the yellow card (awarded to Niall Scannell), the maul was going forward and it was pulled down.

"In the scrum it was a real battle. Castres conceded four penalties for the same infringement and the referee didn't give them a warning or a yellow card so we need some clarity on that."

In Dublin, one of Quinlan's former colleagues, John Fogarty, watched his old team's demise and, while the scrum battles occupied his nerdy perspective, the Leinster assistant coach admittedly also cast a sceptic eye when asked if one game - in France, after all - reflected a return to wild days of wanton lawlessness.

"I think the game is a lot cleaner than it would have been 10 years ago, for sure," he said.

"The players are so much smarter about how they go about their business, they're held accountable by the team as well as coaches.

"Talk about the Irish team, you'd be murdered if you were to be acting ill-disciplined the whole time.

"We don't want to give away stupid, needless penalties. We'd be punished badly on the scoreboard and also the discipline can be 10 weeks, 12 weeks. So it costs you massively as a player.

"In these games, there's going to be niggle and there was niggle in that game, I presume. There's pressure in those games to get results and that leads to niggle."

As for the need for coaches or players to call out the actions or others, Fogarty agrees with Van Graan that the wheels of justice - oiled a tad more frequently now than in the past - are sufficient unto each day.

"The referees and the citing commissioner are controlling that part of it. People aren't looking to do each other in."

Whatever happens with today's citings, it will not alter Munster's suddenly perilous qualification prospects, the ultimate, stinging legacy of a scarring weekend.

"If we'd taken our chances we'd be sitting here talking about a win, but we're not."

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