Johann van Graan: ‘Keats is playing some of the best rugby of his life’

Connacht were obliged to bring a below-strength squad to Thomond Park on Saturday night and as a consequence paid a heavy price against a committed Munster side badly in need of a comprehensive victory. 

A 39-13 scoreline suggests they got that even though coach Johann van Graan expressed some reservations with crunch European Cup ties looming over the next fortnight.

“I am very pleased with the result, the bonus point and the team performance”, said van Graan. “There were some brilliant performances by individuals and I was very happy with the five tries - although I felt we left a few out there in the first half.

“Conor Oliver’s performance was exceptional. Coming on the back of Chris Cloete having some brilliant games at openside, I was very pleased for Conor to come back after injury and such a long time out of the game. His ball carrying and line-speed was great.

Van Graan doesn’t attempt to conceal his satisfaction with Ian Keatley’s display at out-half in the ongoing absence of Tyler Bleyendaal.

“Keats is playing some of the best rugby of his life”, he asserted. “He’s got confidence, he’s kicking well out of hand, he took the ball quite well to the line and made some very good calls. He is obviously one of the leaders in our team and together with Conor (Murray) and Zeebs at the back, the main decision-makers in our back line did well.”

Having hit rock bottom in the first half two weeks ago against Leinster and in the second half on Monday last against Ulster, the Munster coaching team demanded an 80-minute performance from their charges.

“It was kind of a 60-minute performance but you have also to give credit to Connacht”, van Graan acknowledged. “They came out firing and there were a lot of big hits in the first 20 minute. They contributed to a very good contest, although maybe the score ballooned towards the end.”

Connacht head coach Kieran Keane admitted that they were “a poor second” but didn’t appear unduly worried given the circumstances under which his limited squad had to perform.

“We got hurt by the yellow card (to Quinn Roux), we conceded 14 points during that time”, he reasoned. “They opened us up so it was a tough day for them young fellas”.

Pressed about whether forcing Connacht to take on Leinster and Munster in the space of six days is unfair, the New Zealander mused: “It is a big ask, particularly for us. Perhaps we don’t quite have the depth of numbers that other big clubs have. But I am not here to make excuses. We are dealt those cards and we knew what was needed. We rotated our squad as best we could. We had to take out some very influential players and we gave opportunities to some young ones. It will hold us in good stead.”

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