Peter O’Mahony and Johann van Graan put their hands up after another Heineken Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Saracens and admitted they had simply been beaten by a better side.
For the second time in three seasons, Munster were well beaten by the English club at the last-four stage of the European competition, this time losing 32-16 at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday with skipper O’Mahony admitting his side had been outplayed. Second-half tries from forwards Michael Rhodes and Billy Vunipola opened the game up after Saracens had edged the first half 12-9 on penalty kicks. A Darren Sweetnam try on 62 minutes closed the gap but Saracens remained in full control and the 2016 and 17 champions saw the game out comfortably.
Head coach van Graan said:
“We came here to win. We were beaten by a better side on the day and they were really good. Put some scoreboard pressure on us and then we got back to 25-16, made it a nine-point game and they turned the screws on us.
“We played as well as we could. No fault of the players or the management. We did everything we could and well done to the team that beat us and won on the day.”
The defeat brought back painful memories for the majority of the 16,235 crowd backing Munster of the 26-10 Dublin semi-final defeat to Saracens in 2017 but O’Mahony believes while the margin of difference was the same, Munster put up a better fight this time around in Coventry.
“We’ve come a long way. You know, we have come a long way as a team and as a squad. I’m not going to argue with a 16-point difference. Would I say that they’re, you know, 20, 25 points better than us? No. But, you know, I’m not going to argue with 16 points.
“They outplayed us today. You do get to a stage, nine points down, even after scoring a try, you’re chasing the game and you’re still probably playing out of your gameplan a little bit. We played rugby in areas that we probably didn’t plan on doing as a result of being down by that much. So with their defence, the way they go after teams, particularly in our half, it makes it that little bit more difficult when you are trying things that if we were closer or ahead we probably wouldn’t be doing. Then when you make mistakes in that area or concede penalties, you’re conceding three points or you’re conceding turnover possession within 20, 25 yards, give or take, of your line. So that certainly does add an element when you do go down by a score or more, it just makes it that little bit more difficult to play out of your half.”
While Saracens progress to next month’s final in Newcastle when they will face the winner of Sunday’s Aviva Stadium semi-final clash between defending champions Leinster and Toulouse, Munster must now concentrate on their Guinness PRO14 campaign with one game of the regular season to go at home to Connacht next Saturday to try and claim top spot in Conference A and book a home semi-final.
“It’s very important,” van Graan said. “We said from the beginning of the pre-season we were going to take it week to week. We came to the semi-final of Europe and got caught short on the day. We've got a game against Connacht, we’ve qualified for the quarter-final. There is still an opportunity for the semi-final. That's not in our hands. Then once we are in the quarter-finals or semi-final take the game as it comes and learn from it.
“Not a lot of teams in the world put pressure like Saracens do. Sometimes you just got to say well done to the opposition. They did fantastically in 2016 and 2017 and lost in the quarter-final last year. This year they are unbeaten. They put 50 points on Glasgow that's three points ahead of us in the PRO14 and they beat us 32-16 in the Champions Cup semi-final. In sport it’s tough to lose but sometimes you’ve just got to look the opposition in the eye and say well done, you were the better team on the day.”