Van Graan re­joices be­fore pick­ing up speed for Racing

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - 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.”

Mun­ster coach Jo­hann van Graan

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