Friday 24 May 2019

Van Graan looks for response to put pressure on Glasgow

Johann van Graan: High stakes. Pic: Sportsfile
Johann van Graan: High stakes. Pic: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

In the aftermath of last season's Guinness PRO14 semi-final defeat to Leinster, Johann van Graan said the key lesson he'd take was the importance of securing a home semi-final.

Not only would it earn his team a three-week lead-in to the last-four clash, it would keep Leinster on the opposite side of the draw. Tonight, they'll find out if they've done enough.

Glasgow Warriors kick off their home game against Edinburgh at the same time as this interpro with a three-point cushion over Munster. Connacht are comfortably ensconced in third and know they face a trip up to Belfast next Saturday.

Thus, Andy Friend has rotated his squad and with Munster retaining 11 of their starting XV from last week's frustrating European semi-final exit to Saracens, the home side will be confident of doing enough to be ready for any slip-up in Scotstoun.

Edinburgh need to win to have a hope of overhauling Benetton in Conference B and so there is still a chance of a favourable result. Van Graan is fully aware of the stakes.

Bouncing back, he says, shouldn't be an issue. The task at hand focuses the mind.

"We're in week 43 and we've had some disappointing weeks and we've had some brilliant weeks. We've had a lot more positive weeks than negative weeks," he said.

"It's an important game because we still have a shot at a home semi-final and that's a big carrot for us.

"We've got to make sure that we beat Connacht. They've done really well, they could have beaten Leinster away and they have beaten Ulster away and they'll come here in the belief they can beat us here.

"We don't have control over the Edinburgh and Glasgow game but if Edinburgh do end up beating Glasgow and we end up beating Connacht, we'll have a home semi-final so that in itself is a big thing for us."

Joe Schmidt will be an interested observer as, unlike Leinster's trip to Belfast, he'll get a chance to see a couple of Ireland head-to-heads.

The collision of Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell will be felt across Limerick, while Conor Murray's duel with Kieran Marmion will be a more subtle affair.

Although Aki is one of a number of heavy-hitters in the Connacht XV after they had a weekend off last weekend, Andy Friend mixes it up and hands Academy out-half Conor Dean his first start.

The son of former Ireland No 10 Paul, the St Mary's man moved from the Leinster Academy last summer and will be keen to take his shot.

He has plenty of talent to work with outside him, but the quality of ball they receive depends on their understrength pack's capacity to best a strong Munster eight - six of whom started last weekend.

The likes of Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander, Tadhg Beirne, Jean Kleyn and Dave Kilcoyne will be desperate to produce a strong display after finding the going so tough in Coventry.

Behind the scrum, Tyler Bleyendaal is backed to bounce back after a difficult outing; as is Mike Haley. The result will have no material impact on Connacht, but Friend wants a performance.

"There is still a huge incentive for our players. We know that these interpro fixtures always bring out the best in our boys and we know that going to Thomond Park is a massive challenge," he said.

"With a quarter-final next weekend, we have huge competition in the squad and that is exactly what we need at this stage of the season.

"This is a big opportunity for everyone involved."

They can make life difficult, but Munster have too much up front and can do their part while hoping for a favour.

Verdict: Munster

MUNSTER - M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, D Goggin, C Nash; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt), C Cloete, CJ Stander. Reps: R Marshall, J Loughman, J Ryan, B Holland, A Botha, N Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, S Arnold.

CONNACHT - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, T Daly, S Fitzgerald; C Dean, K Marmion; M Burke, T McCartney, F Bealham; J Maksymiw, J Cannon; E McKeon, J Butler (capt), R Copeland. Reps: S Delahunt, P McCabe, C Carey, E Masterson, P Boyle, C Blade, E Griffin, D Leader.

Ref - F Murphy (IRFU)

  • Munster v Connacht, live eir Sport, 7.35

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