Mun­ster have what it takes to stun Le­in­ster: Van Graan

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT - BY DAVID KELLY

SOME­TIMES you have to take a step back to go for­ward.

Jo­hann van Graan did not watch Le­in­ster’s Cham­pi­ons Cup fi­nal win as it hap­pened but a few hours af­ter the event.

With no skin in the game, this rep­re­sented another op­por­tu­nity for cold, clin­i­cal anal­y­sis.

No time to muse about the missed op­por­tu­nity of their last semi-fi­nal when there is still time to rec­tify re­gret with the next.

And so the coach set­tled on Satur­day evening, clip­board and red pen on one side of his sit­ting, a re­mote con­trol, the left fin­ger poised on pause, on another. Time to go to work.

“You have to make sure your emo­tions did not be­come part of it,” he says.

None­the­less, his ad­mi­ra­tion for the cham­pi­ons, and the en­vi­ron­ment that cre­ated that sta­tus, was un­equiv­o­cal.

“It is very pos­i­tive to be part of an Ir­ish sys­tem. It is a sys­tem that works, two Ir­ish sides in Cham­pi­ons Cup semi-fi­nals,” he says.

“I am a guy who be­lieves you get what you de­serve, and Le­in­ster de­served to be Cham­pi­ons Cup winners. They won nine out of nine. Well done to them.”

It can be ar­gued too, per­haps, that Mun­ster have got what they de­served in re­cent times; a steady run of semi-fi­nal and fi­nal ap­pear­ances that re­flects their ad­mirable con­sis­tency, but also the lack of sil­ver­ware which rep­re­sents their in­abil­ity to make the fi­nal leap.

“Time is an in­cred­i­ble thing. We have not thought too much about that. We will take a re­view af­ter the sea­son, but at this stage that is not our fo­cus. Our fo­cus is on Satur­day af­ter­noon,” he says.

“Af­ter a game you have emo­tions and frus­tra­tions. Knock out games are huge. We have been on the wrong end of one or two games.

“It is our job as coaches and man­age­ment and play­ers to get to the next level.”

And so Mun­ster seek once more to ad­vance that fi­nal step but it is im­pos­si­ble to as­cer­tain with how much cer­tainty.

Against Rac­ing in Bordeaux, it ap­peared for all the world, based on se­lec­tion and tac­tics, that they were so in­tent on mak­ing the fi­nal quar­ter of the game pay that they sim­ply over-looked the im­por­tance of the first quar­ter.

In­stead of be­ing in a po­si­tion to strike for home af­ter the hour, they in­stead ef­fec­tively lost the game in the first 20 min­utes.

Rac­ing rolled their own set of dice, trust­ing in their abil­ity to build an omi­nous early lead to pro­tect them from a fi­nal on­slaught; they couldn’t re­peat the trick last week­end.

Mun­ster re­turned to do­mes­tic duty and again they seemed to pre-de­ter­mine their ap­proach, even though ef­fect­ing a sub­stan­tial se­lec­tion shift at out-half.

They got dragged into a dour arm-wres­tle against Ed­in­burgh but a mo­ment of Si­mon Zebo flair in a game fea­tur­ing none helped them over the line.

Since then, they have spo­ken of the need to play more ball, par­tic­u­larly now against a Le­in­ster side who have played some of the best rugby wit­nessed north of the equa­tor this sea­son.

But as Van Graan watched Rac­ing re­peat­edly re­strict Le­in­ster’s ex­pan­sive pre­ten­sions last week­end, he could be forgiven for sec­ond-guess­ing him­self.

Might the bet­ter route to suc­cess be to pri­mar­ily stop the other team play­ing rather than at­tempt to out-play them?

Es­pe­cially when the im­pres­sion per­sists that Mun­ster re­main a team who are bet­ter at ap­ply­ing pres­sure than con­sist- ently cre­at­ing it them­selves.

“We did man­age to play a few times against Ed­in­burgh,” Van Graan ar­gues. “Our ex­e­cu­tion let us down once or twice.

“It was a fi­nal over the week­end and fi­nals come with a dif­fer­ent kind of pres­sure, it’s all or noth­ing.

“That’s what Rac­ing do well, they put them un­der pres­sure. Le­in­ster also had their op­por­tu­ni­ties and if they fin­ished them the score might have been dif­fer­ent.

“But we’ll do what works well for us, fo­cus on our kick­ing game and our set-piece and once a few op­por­tu­ni­ties present them­selves we’ll def­i­nitely look to take them.

“When you play op­po­nents like that you’ve got to take your­self out of your com­fort zone.”

As much as Mun­ster will try to em­u­late Rac­ing’s work off the ball, their prospects of suc­cess will be deter­mined by what they do on the ball.

And much of that will be pred­i­cated upon whether or not they stick with JJ Han­ra­han or re­vert to Ian Keat­ley.

It rep­re­sents not a de­bate about which man is the su­pe­rior player but which of them of­fers the coach­ing team the more favourable op­tion to ef­fect a pos­i­tive game-plan.

Van Graan has hinted that changes will be min­i­mal, which would seem to con­firm that Han­ra­han will stay; he must if Mun­ster are com­mit­ted to find­ing another way to suc­ceed.

“JJ did pretty well against Ed­in­burgh, he’s played well over the last seven weeks,” he says.

“Who­ever we go with, we back that nine and 10 and if the game sit­u­a­tion lends it towards that then we’ll make a change.”

Van Graan, as he did last Satur­day, must op­er­ate with­out emo­tion, a trait he ad­mired in Le­in­ster, too, and trans­mit this to his team.

He adds: “I don’t need to con­vince them. They be­lieve it. This is a club that be­lieves in them­selves.”

Un­der­dogs: Mun­ster coach Jo­hann van Graan feels his play­ers can spring sur­prise

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