Munster must refuel and take stock again, warns Johann van Graan

Munster needed this. Even Johann van Graan admitted as much.

Munster must refuel and take stock again, warns Johann van Graan

Munster 26 Leinster 17

Munster needed this. Even Johann van Graan admitted as much.

Two defeats, to Castres and Ulster, leading up to Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 encounter in Limerick, had escalated the value attached to what proved to be a fiery festive engagement but the Munster head coach dug deeper into the past to put this ‘W’ in its proper context.

For too many years the province has been good without being quite good enough to get the biggest of jobs done. Defeats at the latter stages in both domestic and continental competitions have been the norm. Leinster have all too often been beyond the pale.

Leading 13-3 at the break, it took a late Keith Earls intercept try to lift another Leinster siege and make safe the win but van Graan landed on a point midway through the second-half when the advantage had been shaved to just six by a James Tracy touch down as the game’s pivot.

“It shows that in big games we can come past the mental barrier, he explained. “We came up short in two semi-finals last year. Now, I’ve said to the coaching staff (during the second-half) that we’ve scored 16 points to 10 and if the opposition scores there a bit of doubt could creep in.

“From my side, and for the whole team, it was a massive moment regardless of how many guys are out on the field. At 16-10, if you let in a try there you lose the game 17-16 and you’ve got to go back to the drawing board.”

Let’s be blunt about it. Defeat here, to a self-destructing rival playing 50 minutes with 14 men and for seven with 13, would have amounted to wilful negligence on Munster’s part. To lose to their rivals on the back of a game full of fire and brimstone in their own house? Unthinkable.

Earls may have won it with his quick thinking and quicker feet when snaffling a loose Ciarán Frawley pass with eight minutes remaining but there is just no escaping the fact that Leinster had done their bit in losing the game long before all that.

Their indiscipline in a bitter first half was appalling.

Ten penalties conceded was just the start of it in a period when James Lowe was shown red for putting Andrew Conway in danger whilst in the air and both props, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong, spent ten minutes in the sinbin.

Furlong was lucky he didn’t see red.

Munster weren’t always innocent bystanders – Conor Murray should have followed Healy to the bin for an almost identical high challenge, for example – but Leinster’s ills were personified by Jonathan Sexton who stomped around like a bear with a New Year’s hangover.

It all made for a game that about as far from festive and peaceful as could be imagined and one that was poor in quality but it did at least get better after the interval and ended with a consolation injury-time five-pointer from Max Deegan.

Munster had already made Leinster pay.

It was a reckless challenge, from Scott Fardy on Chris Cloete, that established the foundation for the South African flanker to go over for the game’s first try from a maul after 16 minutes and Joey Carbery punished indiscretions with an unerring boot.

Carbery claimed six of his 14 points while Leinster were down to 13 men at the end of the first-half but this was still far from the perfect performance from the home side whose attack once again looked blunt on a night when defences were largely on top.

“I thought there were some good moments,” said van Graan. “I won’t say that I’m completely happy. We left one or two chances out there. We are still growing as a team. We’ve got a five lock (Tadhg Beirne), when he came here he never really called lineouts in big games.

“We’ve still got a half-back partnership that’s growing. It was only their second game together for Munster. (Dan) Goggin was back at 13 so we’ve got a long way to go. I’ve said to the guys that if you beat the European and PRO14 champions and you’re not happy, that’s a sign of growth.”

This was a win that allowed Munster to end the calendar year undefeated on home turf – only a draw with Ulster in Limerick last April prevented a 100% return – and it reclaimed second spot in Conference A from Connacht who they meet in Galway next weekend.

It is also a win that fills their sails ahead of an epic journey through January that starts in Galway next weekend and continues with a trip to Gloucester and then the visit to Thomond Park of Exeter Chiefs in the last round of Champions Cup games.

Van Graan is the type who meets triumph and defeat with the same equanimity so he was never going to talk this up as a rallying cry for battles to come. Nor was he about to entertain suggestions that his squad’s depth and resilience will be stretched by all their recent dogfights.

“Look at world rugby and the minutes of what is going on,” he pointed out. “Look at the physicality of this game here. That is something you get. It is the same for all teams and you do your planning as a squad, adapt as you can. We picked up some knocks and bangs this week so we will just have to adapt again. It doesn’t matter in terms of how much fuel we have left, we just have to refuel tonight and take stock again.”

MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, S Arnold, D Goggin, K Earls; J Carbery, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, T Beirne; F Wycherley, C Cloete, CJ Stander.

Replacements: A Botha for Cloete (30); S Archer for Ryan (59); D Sweetnam for Goggin and B Holland for Kleyn (both 65); J Loughman for Kilcoyne and T Blyendaal for Carbery (both 70); A Mathewson for Murray (74); K O’Byrne for Scannell (76).

LEINSTER: J Larmour; R O’Loughlin, G Ringrose, N Reid, J Lowe; J Sexton, L McGrath; C Healy, J Tracy, T Furlong; S Fardy, J Ryan; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Conan.

Replacements: M Bent for Ruddock (36-40) and for Furlong (69); B Byrne for Tracy, P Dooley for Healy and C Frawley for Sexton (all 60); M Deegan for Ruddock (65); C O’Brien for Ringrose (69); H O’Sullivan for McGrath and R Molony for Ryan (both 74).

Referee: F Murphy (IRFU).

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