Munster’s 25-18 defeat to Cardiff Blues in the Welsh capital saw the Thomond Park outfit produce a poor first-half performance which ultimately cost them any chance of victory.
In truth, it was a display at odds with Munster’s usual high standards. There were basic, unexplained errors aplenty and an inability to do the nuts and bolts to the required standard.
There were kick-outs on the full, charge downs and two lost line-outs. It allowed the Blues, who were good but didn’t have to work too hard for their tries, to lead 19-5 at the break.
Macauley Cook, Lloyd Williams and Owen Lane all scored for the home side within eight minutes and although Munster did mount a comeback, they also didn’t deserve to win.
Tries from Chris Cloete and full-back Stephen Fitzgerald and Tyler Bleyendaal’s penalty with the last kick of the game did at least secure a losing bonus point.
“The first half most definitely cost us the game. When you play away from home and you’re 19-0 down, you can’t be expected to win the game,” said Van Graan.
“The disappointing thing was that it was all our own errors. Credit to the team because at half time we reassessed and said that it wasn’t good enough.
“I thought we did well to come back to within one score at 19-15 and we had a couple of opportunities to get in front, but didn’t take them. At the end to come away with a losing bonus point, I think I’ll take that.”
Munster could consider themselves a touch unlucky with Cook’s first score because it looked like there was both an Ellis Jenkins knock on and a forward pass in the build-up.
That said, Ian Keatley had already hooked a shocking penalty miss wide and then scrum-half Duncan Williams summed up Munster’s poor start by having a clearance kick charged down.
His opposite number Lloyd Williams collected to dive over and then more passive away defence allowed Rey Lee-Lo to kick ahead from a scrum for Lane to collect.
Jarrod Evans converted two of the three scores.
Munster did get a score back before the break through Cloete and when the game resumed, they did move to within four points of their opponents as they made the most of a yellow card for Blues hooker Matthew Rees for offside.
The boot of Keatley and Fitzgerald’s try gave Munster hope, but two late penalties from Evans secured a deserved home victory. Bleyendaal’s penalty was the only consolation for the visitors.
“The mood of the squad is one of disappointment,” Van Graan said. “The disappointing thing for us is we didn’t make them work very hard. It was our own errors (that cost us).”
Defeat in Cardiff means Munster have now fallen 16 points behind rivals Glasgow Warriors at the top of Conference A of the Guinness PRO14. The Scottish side are next up for Van Graan’s men on Friday night. Munster must improve from their display in the Welsh capital against the Warriors or go down to another reversal.
“There are no serious injuries, just a few bumps and bruises but nothing too serious,” Van Graan said. “Glasgow are playing fantastic rugby. You only had to look at their performance against the Cheetahs on Friday night (37-23 win) to see that and they’ve only lost once all season in the PRO14. We’re coming up against the best team in the PRO14 on Friday night so we’ll have to improve and that’s what we’re planning on doing this week.”
Guinness PRO14: Cardiff Blues 25 Munster 18
Tries: Cook 19, L Williams 24, Lane 27 Convs: Evans 25,28 Pens: Evans 68, 76
Tries: Cloete 34, Fitzgerald 53 Conv: Keatley 54 Pens: Keatley 44, Bleyendaal 80.
R Williams; Summerhill (Myhill 53-63), Smith, Lee-Lo, Lane; Evans, L Williams (T Williams 66); G Jenkins (capt) (Gill 61), Rees (Myhill 63), Filise (Lewis 55), Earle (Turnbull 61), Davies, Cook (Robinson 74), E Jenkins, N Williams.
Fitzgerald; Sweetnam, Arnold, Scannell, O’Mahony (Zebo 56); Keatley (Bleyendaal 61), Williams (Hart 70); Kilcoyne (Cronin 54), Marshall (Sherry 62), Ryan (Archer 54), Grobler (Kleyn 54), O’Shea, O’Donoghue (capt), Cloete, Copeland (O’Callaghan 70)
Stuart Berry (South Africa).
Guinness PRO14CARDIFF BLUES...........25MUNSTER.....................18