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Thursday 19 September 2019

Leinster are well above the rest, that's why we are looking forward to this - Van Graan

Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After being given an extra couple of days off, it was back to the grind for the Munster squad yesterday as preparations ramped up for tomorrow's mouthwatering showdown with Leinster.

Back-to-back defeats will have left somewhat of a sour taste going into the short Christmas break and with the double champions coming down the M7 looking to inflict more festive misery on their arch rivals, nothing focuses the mind more.

This is a crucial period for Munster and everyone within the squad realises that.

Sure, they were on the end of some poor refereeing decisions over recent weeks, but Johann van Graan is the first to admit that had their attack functioned as it is supposed to, his side would be in an altogether more healthy position.

It is by no means a disastrous situation however, and if Munster could conjure up their first win over Leinster since 2016 it could well prove to be the turning point of their season.

Leo Cullen's men reiterated the steely toughness within their squad last weekend when he rang the changes, and Leinster still managed to overturn a 17-point deficit with 10 minutes remaining.

While a very different starting XV will take to the pitch at Thomond Park tomorrow, Van Graan couldn't help but admire that stunning comeback against Connacht.

"I think a lot of teams aspire to that," the South African acknowledged.

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"If you want to be the best, you have to measure yourself against the best and they are clearly well above the rest at this stage. That's why we are looking forward to this one, to see where we are at.

"I think you have to look at last season and what they have done. To be honest, they do not have a lot of weaknesses. They are a very solid team and that is why they are the European and PRO14 champions.

"They've got a general at 10 (Johnny Sexton). He's currently the World Player of the Year. He gives structure to his team.

"Their forward pack are all internationals. Thirteen of their team played in the team that beat the All Blacks and we had four.

"So you have to respect them and give credit where credit is due. We have got no doubts about what is coming.

"If you just look at all of the teams that they have played against, I know Toulouse obviously beat them a few weeks ago but that was also one marginal decision that went against them.

"(They are) A pretty special team and we look at it as a great opportunity lying ahead for us and to look where we are as a team."

Munster must quickly find out where they are because of what is coming down the line.

Following tomorrow's clash, they play in Galway next weekend, before a pivotal trip to Gloucester and then a potential pool decider at home to Exeter.

If they are to manage this tricky period and get back to winning ways, Munster's attack must show major improvements.

"I said from the beginning of the season you are going to get ebbs and flows," Van Graan reasoned.

"We spoke about it as a team. You lose a game against Castres and one decision or one kick goes over the post and you win, you'd look very differently. We don't have any excuses about the last two weeks.

"We made a few changes against Ulster and I thought we had opportunities to win it. We got the losing bonus point so I don't think there is any more pressure.

Challenge

"I would like to win every single game but unfortunately sport doesn't work that way.

"From our side we looked at it and we worked at training sessions on some of the things we think we can improve on and now it's a big one ahead.

"If you look backwards too much you can get squashed by what's in front and there is a pretty big challenge ahead.

"There were one or two big moments against Castres - specifically that play just before half-time where we were literally just five yards away and we had an opportunity on the try-line in which we lost the ball.

"I mean if you look back at it and score one of those, you win the game but that wasn't to be and you know in big games, big moments win it and I'm sure there will be big moments ahead and we have to take those opportunities.

"I think every game is a big game but this is a special one, not only for Irish rugby but for the people of Munster.

"I believe it will come down to two things. One, each individual player will play to the best of his ability for both teams and the team that uses the opportunities - and that is something we'd like to improve on."

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