Wednesday 23 October 2019

Johann Van Graan hails Munster calm as Leo Cullen laments Leinster discipline

Keith Earls of Munster on his way to scoring his side's second try during the Guinness PRO14 Round 12 match between Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Keith Earls of Munster on his way to scoring his side's second try during the Guinness PRO14 Round 12 match between Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Johann van Graan hailed his Munster's side's character after they stayed calm in the Thomond Park storm to finish 2018 with a crucial derby win over Leinster.

The European champions let their discipline slip during a tempestuous clash, losing James Lowe to a red card and Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy to the sin-bin while conceding 10 penalties before half-time.

Munster, who have been on the wrong side of a number of bad calls in recent weeks, kept their cool.

And van Graan suggested that Leinster were lucky not to have been punished further during a bad-tempered opening half.

"I think we stuck to our principles and I think we really stayed disciplined," the Munster coach said.

"I thought the referee was in a very difficult position. A sell-out Thomond Park and you want 15 versus 15.

"I thought one or two of the earlier decisions could have gone maybe higher but all credit to the referee, I thought he kept his cool and I think it was four massive incidents in the first-half and I thought eventually something had to give.

"I think it's important, it doesn't matter which colour is the jersey, I think player safety and player welfare is very important.

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"You know, we lost a player tonight (Chris Cloete) out of a game and our opponents lost it (Furlong) for only 10 minutes.

"All we can ask for is consistency like I've been asking for the last few weeks. Really pleased about our discipline."

The South African singled out young gun Fineen Wycherley for particular praise.

 The Bantry native thrived in the biggest start of his career to date and his early hit on Johnny Sexton rattled the Leinster captain who was penalised for retaliating.

"I thought Fineen was excellent over the past few weeks," van Graan said.

"He's actually a lock. I gave him an opportunity against the Cheetahs as a blindside flanker and he impressed me so much throughout the last year.

"When I came he was still with the Academy. I backed him for this game.

"Peter (O'Mahony) wasn't available. I played Fineen blindside flanker against the European and PRO14 champions and I thought he was excellent tonight.

"Another 80-minute performance. He really stood up. That's brilliant for the club to show that our youth system works.

"He's a guy, for the last six months who has just put his head down and he worked. It paid off tonight and I'm really glad for him. "

Leinster coach Leo Cullen was disappointed with his team's discipline in the first-half, but the coach took solace from his team's performance with 14 men, particularly after half-time.

"We lost the game, so it is difficult," he said when asked what positives he'd take from the defeat.

"When you break apart the performance, the first half hour our discipline is clearly not good enough.

"From that point on, we do a lot of good things and we stick in the game well. So, that's really pleasing. I thought the desire and the spirit shown by the players is pleasing.

"Some younger players, we wanted to bring them off the bench to give them that exposure and I thought they handled things reasonably well.

"I thought when we only needed one try, after all of the cards and particularly the red, when we're numbers down we only concede one try and that's an intercept when we're 5m from the Munster line. It's a good bit of play where they read it, get the intercept and go the length of the field.

"It is pleasing that we were able to shut Munster out for the majority of the game when we're a man down. At one point we we were down to 13.

"So, how the players dug in and adapted because in many ways when you're down to 14 men the game-plan that you planned all week goes out the window to a certain extent.

Even losing Dave Kearney in the warm-up, Noel (Reid) stepping in, the way we had to rejig with Rory (O'Loughlin) on the wing... it was a day where we had to adapt.

"It wasn't always perfect, but the players dug in for each other and that was the most pleasing part."

Cullen confirmed that the decision to take Johnny Sexton off after an hour was pre-planned and said Kearney had felt a tight adductor muscle in the warm-up and was withdrawn.

Otherwise, he has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the trip to Ulster, but Lowe is facing a ban for taking Andrew Conway out in the air and could miss a number of crucial games in the New Year.

Munster are sweating on Cloete's fitness after he was forced off in the aftermath of the collision with Furlong.

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