Tuesday 22 January 2019

Van Graan rejoices before picking up speed for Racing


Munster coach Johann van Graan
Munster coach Johann van Graan

John Fallon

It wasn't just the 200 Munster supporters who showed their appreciation for the way Johann van Graan's men held out in a late onslaught by the Cheetahs on Friday night to score a 19-17 win which has secured a home quarter-final in the PRO14.

The local supporters, who had witnessed their Cheetahs snatch late wins in four of their previous five outings, also showed their appreciation as Van Graan crowned his first visit back to his native South Africa with a second victory of the tour.

"We will enjoy this one," said Van Graan, whose side had also come from behind to defeat the Southern Kings in the opening game of their trip. "For an overseas team to come to South Africa and get nine points out of ten, that's a big achievement in our eyes.

"We planned for this game and knew that we would come across some quality opposition. We will it enjoy tonight, reset ourselves, get back and get the guys to Limerick or Cork for a night or two. Then we will refocus for a massive game coming up."

That 'massive' test will be in Bordeaux on Sunday against Racing 92 as Munster bid to reach the European final for the first time since their second Heineken Cup victory in 2008.

Two wins and a couple of weeks in a bubble in South Africa will have done no harm in the preparation for Bordeaux, although a tight contest on a heavy pitch in the thin air of the Highveld will have taken its toll.

"I would have liked to have had it a bit easier at the end. All credit to the 15 on the field. We had a lot of pressure, it didn't go our way, we had to defend three or four set-pieces and then that final sequence of scrums. We managed that really, really well.

"There are quite a few knocks and bruises: Dan Goggin took a knock, Jack O'Donoghue took a knock. We will reassess. It's a long travel now so we will hopefully know more on Monday or Tuesday," added Van Graan, who lost scrum-half James Hart to injury before the break.

But it was his replacement who proved the difference. In his contribution, Conor Murray picked off the base of a scrum and squeezed over, and Munster starting eating into the 14-0 lead the Cheetahs had built up.

Ten points down at the break, Munster bossed matters after the restart and three JJ Hanrahan penalties got them within a point before Murray again stepped forward and landed the winner with a massive penalty from inside his own half 14 minutes from time.

"Conor played a very good game. We didn't plan to put him on that early. He did pretty well with that kick, and his general kicking game and organisation, it was really good. But all credit to the 15 guys starting and the eight guys on the bench. This was a real team effort. We had a really specific plan to hopefully go close in Bloemfontein, everybody executed it really well.

"I joined mid-season at Munster. One of the messages that I gave to the team, is the Munster team will be about the squad. If you look over the last ten or 12 weeks, there were guys gone away to the Six Nations and we alternated the squad.

"After that [European] quarter-final we made 10 changes and nine changes again. That's about backing your squad and everybody buying into your squad. The weeks that you don't play, to make sure that you get the reps in because if you are not in a team you can drop off the pace. All credit to the players and coaching staff for the last three weeks."

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