Saturday 16 February 2019

We're a better team than last year, says Van Graan as Edinburgh contest looms

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Ultimately, experience counted on the big day and nobody houses more of that commodity in Europe.

This was Munster's 177th match in Europe's top flight; Exeter were playing only their 57th. Both sides knew what was needed, but in the end only one team got what they wanted.

Exeter were guilty of eyeing the final score rather than the one in-running, spurning three kicks at goal in their quest to repeat the 13th-minute maul try and trying to gain the eight-point win they needed to qualify and eliminate their hosts, with Billy Holland's late lineout steal on his five-metre line ending their hopes.

Exeter, not always at their best in Europe compared to domestically, succumbed again and will harbour regrets as a team not always at their best on the day somehow willed their way across the line.

Munster will fight another day, but that alone will not sustain them; albeit Johann van Graan begged to differ, declaring that this year's model, in his eyes, surpasses that of the one which perished in last year's semi-final.

Joey Carbery is fundamental to his optimism; so too Tadhg Beirne, another summer recruit whose influence loomed large at key moments against an Exeter side who dominated, without much penetration, for long spells.

"I'd like to think we're a better team," said the coach, who confirmed Beirne will have a scan on a knee injury.

"The way that we have dealt with the pressure over the last four weeks was pretty special and there were all different kinds of games.

"I thought the Leinster game provided a different kind of pressure and one that we held our composure in terms of discipline.

"The Connacht game was one we needed to win away from home in terms of our confidence and of playing well away and we did that.

"The Gloucester game was one where everything clicked and I thought our decision making was excellent. We won big moments at the start of the game and just on both sides of half-time.

"And this one was a pressure cooker so obviously with such a long way to go in this competition and now a two month break, that's the key thing.

"We'll go away now and we've got to keep improving, keep working on our fitness, our individual skills and the guys that stay behind need to improve again and hopefully we get out of the Six Nations well.

"Then it is literally going to be three training sessions and then we are into a quarter-final so that's going to be pretty important."

Edinburgh away shouldn't discommode them; a sterner examination will await beyond that.

"We played them in a quarter-final here last year in the PRO14. Their scrum was fantastic," said Van Graan.

"They have a very specific game plan that they do well and they have got a lot of belief."

Irish Independent

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