Munster’s success at the breakdown against Leicester was a significant factor in last Saturday’s 33-10 Champions Cup win over their pool rivals but their methods were described as “cynical” by Tigers head coach Matt O’Connor, making the collision area and ruck time an obvious focal point for this weekend’s match referee, Mathieu Raynal of France.
Van Graan’s Munster conceded 13 penalties to Leicester’s eight as they racked up a bonus-point victory at Thomond Park to move clear at the top of Pool 4 on 11 points, four ahead of Castres and five in front of both the Tigers and Racing 92.
That could all get turned on its head this weekend with home victories for Leicester and Racing potentially moving them level on points with Munster, although the Irish province is currently the only team in the group with a positive points difference.
Any sort of an away win for the Reds would put them in the driving seat in terms of qualification for the knockout stages but while head coach van Graan is satisfied there was no common thread to the penalties conceded last Saturday night, he acknowledged his side needed to strive to get the tally back into single
figures this Sunday evening.
“It’s been too high. We’ve got to get it down,” van Graan said. “The interesting thing is we only had four penalties in the first half, the first 60 I think we had six or seven penalties, which is quite normal for a game of this magnitude.
“It was just the last bit, we conceded five in five minutes, which we can be a lot better in. I’ll take the positive out of that, the way that we defended our own line with the game
already won and a bonus point in the bag. All credit to the players who put their bodies on the line and defended that goal line of ours with all that they had.
“But we’ve got to be better in terms of our discipline.
“It’s definitely not a problem. You look at every penalty by itself, there’s not a trend that we concede penalties in one specific area. There was one scrum penalty, a side entry in a maul, two holding on penalties, one offside where one of the guys got up and tackled a guy from an offside position.
“So it’s not a trend when we concede 10 penalties in one area. Obviously, we’d like to concede zero penalties in a perfect world but like I said before we want to improve every single week and I thought we did so over the weekend.”
O’Connor’s criticisms belie his own side’s inability to adapt to last weekend’s referee Jerome Garces but his opposite number, the former South Africa forwards coach, said that would not be an issue for Munster this time around.
“I think it’s about consistency for us. I think every team in the world does their research on referees. It’s about adapting to him.
“We had a good review on all areas of our games, pretty happy with the way our ball carriers fought on the ground and presented the ball, some good reaction speed by our cleaners.
“Some of the breakdown decisions also went against us which might have been 50-50s. That’s all in the past. It’s about doing our research on the referee and the opposition and hopefully we can produce another good breakdown performance on Sunday.”
A year ago, van Graan’s predecessor Rassie Erasmus saw his players register a
resounding 38-0 home win over Leicester in round three, only to then fall 18-16 back at Welford Road.
Van Graan and captain Peter O’Mahony have said this week that they are expecting a backlash from a wounded Tigers side but knowing it is coming and doing something about stopping it are different things and the Munster boss outlined the threats coming their way.
“They’ve got quality players all round the park. I thought Dan Cole put a lot of pressure on at the breakdown in terms of stealing. I thought their maul went very well. They found a few spaces within our defensive line, especially out wide, which we’ll have to have a look at.
“Their broken field, I thought they put us under quite a lot of pressure. The second play of the game went for three or four minutes. So they’ll back themselves at home but I can’t control them, We respect them a lot, playing at their home ground, in a massive game for both teams.
“So we’ll prepare like any normal week, take it day by day and hopefully deliver a good performance on Sunday evening.”