Johann van Graan backed his players to make the right on-pitch decisions after Munster missed a chance to rescue a losing bonus point in a 15-6 defeat at Saracens today.
Munster had a late penalty to move within seven points of last season’s Heineken Champions Cup winners in north London but instead of kicking for goal, stand-in captain CJ Stander and his leadership group opted to go for a try and kicked for the corner.
The resulting lineout came to nothing and Munster now go into the last two rounds on 11 points, just a point in front of Saracens and six adrift of Racing 92 at the top of Pool 4 with a trip to Paris to play the table-toppers on January 12.
Head coach van Graan refused to criticise the Munster players for their call and insisted the chance to qualify for the knockout stages was still up for grabs.
"You always back the decisions on the pitch, they decided to go to the corner and unfortunately it didn't work out for us,” van Graan said.
"But there's a lot of rugby left in this pool, the fact Saracens didn't get four tries means it's 17, 11, 10 if I'm not mistaken.
"The Paris game becomes a knockout game for us now, we need to go and win in Paris."
Despite losing skipper Peter O’Mahony to a groin problem during the warm-up and then seeing fellow back-rower Tadhg Beirne leave the game on a stretcher with an ankle or lower leg injury after just 10 minutes, then prop John Ryan to a calf injury before the half-hour mark, Munster held their own against a near full-strength Saracens side and broke a half-time deadlock with a 44th-minute JJ Hanrahan penalty to move into as 6-3 lead.
A mass brawl between the teams soon afterwards that had appeared to have been sparked by an argument between Saracens hooker Jamie George and Munster doctor Jamie Kearns, handed the visitors another penalty as the home side looked rattled but Hanrahan pushed his kicked wide.
Saracens rallied from that point and tries from Sean Maitland and Mako Vunipola sealed their win, much to Munster’s frustration.
“It's disappointing, we came here to win,” van Graan said. “We were in the game for large parts of it, but unfortunately in the last 20 minutes they were applying pressure in our 22 and they went for multiple scrums and scored the try that put us under huge pressure
"I felt their bench made a big impact and we lost Pete in the warm-up, Tadhg pretty early, John Ryan pretty early... we were quite thin there at the end.
"It was an incredibly tough game of rugby against the champions in their backyard but I'm incredibly proud of our guys."
Of the fight early in the second half, the Munster boss said: “I don't know what happened here, there were a lot of people involved which is never nice to see and we missed the penalty, the score was 6-3 at that stage.
"Had we gone to 9-3 it might have given momentum to our side, so we missed that penalty and that's what I said earlier in the week - to come and win here, only one side has managed it (in Europe), you need to be at your utmost best and take all of your opportunities and unfortunately we left one or two opportunities out there."
Saracens boss Mark McCall repeated his defence coach Alex Sanderson’s claim that Munster doctor Kearns had said something untoward to Jamie George to spark the brawl and that his club would consider taking further action.
“We need to decide what we're going to do before I start speaking about that. From what I know, something pretty bad was said at Jamie (George).
"He wouldn't have reacted the way he reacted otherwise. We'll take our time to decide whether we do anything.
“I don't think what was said to Jamie was good at all. We'll see. If a doctor....we just have to decide....because it started a 30-man brawl.
"Owen Farrell got penalised for running into the melee but from what I saw 29 other people ran into it.
"It was a strange penalty to give and it was instigated by a member of their staff who said something horrible to one of our players.
"We'll decide what happens next.”