Munster head coach Johann van Graan was keen to talk up the positives from his side’s home defeat to Edinburgh last Friday, but also reiterated that losing a home fixture was not something to be celebrated.
“We’ll never make any excuses at Munster,” van Graan said after the game. “We’ll never say that a loss is good enough especially at home and every team we pick we believe we can win the game as it showed there.”
Ahead of two crunch ties against reigning European champions Saracens, van Graan’s decision to make wholesale changes for Friday’s PRO14 game was understandable, and may even have given him some welcome selection problems.
“We back our squad, obviously there’s a few lads disappointed in there but there’s a few guys that put up their hand and will make selection difficult.
“The most important thing is we’ve got the confidence to back out squad.”
One of the main areas of focus in pre-season was building the depth of the squad, and despite an early error van Graan was pleased with the performance of debutant Ben Healy who kicked four from four before being replaced by JJ Hanrahan in the final quarter.
“We’ve been working on our performance under pressure, and so when your nine and your ten make two mistakes like that in the opening minutes you could panic but we were very calm under the posts and that’s how you grow. The safe thing is to just go with JJ, but we put (Healy) in there because we believe he’s good enough, and to come back with that composure for those penalties and conversion, that’s what you want.”
Having worked with the Academy in pre-season, van Graan is well aware of the burgeoning talent at his disposal. And while he emphasised the need for patience, Healy did more than enough to suggest he will have plenty more to contribute to the Munster cause this season. At the beginning of the year it’s important you don’t just throw guys in. You have got to throw them in at the right time.
“You had JJ and Rory (Scannell) the whole week guiding him through it. I was pretty impressed with his goal-kicking and straight after half-time to slot that kick to go 13-10. I think that’s the secret — you have got to back your squad and I’m very glad we are backing our squad.”
On his 200th Munster appearance, van Graan also paid tribute to Stephen Archer , saying he is “one of the unsung heroes” of the team that “shows what Munster is about.”
Saracens loom on the the horizon, and after an opening-round draw at home to Racing 92, Munster have work to do to ensure qualification to the knockout stages. Van Graan said next weekend’s fixture “was always going to be a must-win game”.
“We’ll think about Saracens on Monday, I think the most important thing now is we take our learnings from this game and move on.”