Johann van Graan praised Keith Earls’s selflessness in putting his side first after ruling himself out of Munster’s European clash at Exeter just before kick-off.
Ireland wing Earls withdrew from the starting line-up with a tight hamstring following the pre-game warm-up at Sandy Park on Saturday, minutes before his side got their Heineken Champions Cup pool campaign underway against the Chiefs.
Travelling reserve Darren Sweetnam went straight into the number 11 jersey and did not miss a beat as Munster earned a hard-fought and well deserved 10-10 draw against the English Premiership leaders.
There were further injury concerns for Munster at full-time over tighthead prop John Ryan, who rolled an ankle, and centre Sammy Arnold. Both came off the bench in the second half but were forced off again before the final whistle. Munster flew home from Exeter on Saturday night without Arnold, who had been taken to hospital following a nasty knock to his throat in the 68th minute. The 22-year-old was kept in overnight for precautionary observation and finally made it back to Limerick yesterday.
While van Graan will await an update on his injured players’ status for this Saturday’s visit of Gloucester to Thomond Park he will be delighted his team overcame the loss of Earls just before kick-off.
“It was a big disruption for us,” the Munster boss said. “He is one of our best players. We always bring one or two players with us and luckily we had a winger with Darren Sweetnam.
“He was part of the warm-up and Earlsy made the call in the dressing room. That first part of the game was down the left-hand corner and Sweetnam was in the air three times. I think he won back one or even two.
“All credit must go to him for mentally staying alive for that one time it might happen and today it did. Also, it was great to see Keith Earls put the side first. What we didn’t want was a player to come off after just five minutes and put our bench under pressure. But with that, I think, as a team, we made some good decisions there tonight.”
Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has meanwhile played down an incident just before half-time which had seen home supporters in the 12,749 crowd baying for Munster wing Andrew Conway’s blood.
Conway had rushed out in an attempt to block Chiefs captain Gareth Steenson’s conversion of Luke Cowan-Dickie’s 39th-minute try, his momentum carrying him into the fly-half and laying him out on the Sandy Park pitch. Steenson needed treatment before continuing and playing the full 80 minutes but while replays of the collision did not look pretty, referee Jerome Garces took no action.
Exeter boss Baxter took a more measured view, saying: “I’m assuming the referee said he was committed, he had taken off so he didn’t see any foul.
“It didn’t look like a massive issue to me.
“We are trying to find vicious collisions in every moment on the rugby field. Some of them are just rugby things. We have to be prepared to take them on the chin.”