Saturday 19 October 2019

More frustration for Van Graan at Leinster's hands

Leinster 24 Munster 9

Blues cruise: CJ Stander gets to grips with James Lowe. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Blues cruise: CJ Stander gets to grips with James Lowe. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

They must have had a firm sense of déjà vu, Johann van Graan and Peter O'Mahony, as they sat in the same blue chairs at the RDS and stared out at the same faces asking the same questions and struggled to come up with any new answers.

After all of their efforts, all of their talk of progress and growth, their wins, losses and the odd draw they had reached the same point and exited both the Champions Cup and the Guinness PRO14 at the semi-final stage. Since 2011, they have reached five European semi-finals, five PRO14 semi-finals and two finals and have come away with nothing.

Sean Cronin goes over for Leinster’s first try. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Sean Cronin goes over for Leinster’s first try. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The careers of Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander et al continue unadorned by silverware at club level as their province's quest for a trophy stretches into its ninth season.

This summer will again be one of change and upheaval off the pitch, but while there is talk of the recruitment of an overseas back, Van Graan insisted the only arrivals would be World Cup cover.

With the leading lights set for World Cup duty until late October at the very least and a guaranteed hangover after that, the task will not get any easier next season.

The frustration within the Munster dressing-room was writ large on their expressions as they tried to turn their focus forward just an hour after seeing another semi slip away.

An injured Devin Toner is led from the field. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
An injured Devin Toner is led from the field. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

But while Van Graan talked about taking his time to analyse the season as a whole, he would do well to start with Saturday's game for it summed up so much about his team's short-comings.

The effort, he rightly said, was there throughout but endeavour alone will not beat Leinster, Saracens or the type of excellent teams you will come across in May.

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It needs to be harnessed in an attacking shape that offers opportunity and carried out by players making the right decisions. Their penalty count was a major issue against Leinster, as was their inability to protect the ball in contact.

The selection of CJ Stander at openside didn't really work as Arno Botha was thoroughly out-played by the brilliant Jack Conan, but that seems a cosmetic issue when you fail to come close to scoring a try across 80 minutes of semi-final rugby.

The game can be summed up in the 20 minutes of 15 v 14. With James Lowe in the sin-bin in the first-half, Leinster rode out the storm in comfort; defending whatever Munster threw at them and earning a penalty for Ross Byrne.

In the second-half, Niall Scannell was sent to the stands and the men in blue ramped things up, scoring the all-important first try through Sean Cronin and putting clear daylight between the teams on the scoreboard. When the hooker returned, the game was lost.

James Lowe added a late try to put a gloss on the scoreboard, but by then the season was already over for the men in red.

So, their coach and captain trudged up to the press room to consider where they might find the extra percentages to break through the ceiling they have hit so regularly in recent years.

For Van Graan, the priority is identifying and recruiting the right group of coaches to give the players something different.

He is not pretending that the decision of Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery to leave has made life any easier for the province.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you a different story, it is going to be difficult," he said.

"The positive is we've got continuity in our players and in terms of our S&C and our medical department, and in our general department, we've got a lot of continuity.

"Hopefully we will find the right people who will fit into Munster, and make us a better team.

"So we'll take our time, try and find the right people, and then move forward.

He will also conduct a thorough review of the campaign, but his initial feeling is that the team must be better in the white-heat of these knock-out matches.

"Performance under pressure is one thing," he said when asked what needs to improve.

"I think today our ball carriers got reefed (stripped of possession) quite a bit from the opposition, fair play to Leinster for that.

"One of the key things from the season is our patience. We created multiple opportunities, didn't finish them. That's on the whole group.

"Even though our defence is very good, the ability to concede after multiple phases, especially against the top teams like Leinster and Saracens... certainly we'll have a really good look at where we believe the game is going to go in the next two, three years and adapt."

LEINSTER - J Larmour; D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw (R O'Loughlin 32-40 HIA, 79), J Lowe; R Byrne (J Sexton 57), L McGrath (N McCarthy 71); C Healy (E Byrne 62), S Cronin (B Byrne 62), T Furlong (A Porter 62); D Toner (S Fardy 40), J Ryan; R Ruddock, J van der Flier (M Deegan 77), J Conan.

MUNSTER - M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 68), K Earls; J Carbery (JJ Hanrahan 72), C Murray (A Mathewson 68); D Kilcoyne (L O'Connor 70), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 77), J Ryan (S Archer 57); J Kleyn (F Wycherly 57), T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander, A Botha (J O'Donoghue 57).

Ref - M Adamson (Scotland).

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