Johann van Graan spoke of his pride in his player after Munster’s 16-13 win over Castres sealed qualification for the Heineken Champions Cup knockout stages on Friday night.
A Gavin Coombes try two minutes from full-time and converted by rookie fly-half Jack Crowley saw Van Graan’s side overhaul a 13-9 lead at Stade Pierre Fabre to seal a third straight pool win in Europe this season and secure a place in the last 16 of the competition. If Munster can make it four wins from four with a home win over Wasps back at Thomond Park on Sunday week, the two-time champions will likely have guaranteed a home draw for the first stage of knock-out phase and they will have done it in remarkable circumstances considering the number of inexperienced players they had to call upon in the face of severe Covid disruptions at the start of the campaign.
“Obviously we only had our focus on Castres tonight, really good result for us,” head coach Van Graan said. “We are three from three in Europe. We play next Sunday which gives us a nine-day turnaround.
“We will regroup, look at our resources, obviously if you are good enough to go further, home advantage is crucial.
“We have put ourselves in a really, really good space in terms of winning three out three. So, it's a massive game for us against Wasps next Sunday.” Friday’s win in Castres saw Crowley make just his second European start in one of Europe’s most difficult arenas for visiting teams and his three penalties and the conversion were nervelessly executed in a tight, physical confrontation that ebbed and flowed until the dying moments.
"It was a tough game,” van Graan added, “two teams having a go at each other - a typical Munster versus Castres game.
“I'm incredibly proud of the group, you don't just come here and win. We spoke about an 80-minute performance the whole week and we certainly got that. Everybody gave it their all and we're very happy with the four points."
Munster may have lived to regret the opportunities that went begging to put this game beyond Castres much earlier than the 78th minute after a performance that saw some fine attacking moments from the visitors but van Graan was relieved it all came right in the end thanks to Coombes’s try.
"We had one or two uncharacteristic errors in the lineout five yards away, we had one in the first half and one in the second half. You have to give credit to Castres' lineout as well and they took a chance. Not a lot of teams contest five yards away, they took a chance and did.
"The one that mattered, we finished. I thought we had some very good attacking passages. One or two balls went to ground in the 22 but I thought from a performance point of view, it was some really good stuff."
Coombes, the No 8 who came up with the match-winning moment from close range, also came in for credit from his boss.
“Massive. Making his Irish debut in the summer, obviously he was out for quite a bit with him staying behind in South Africa plus coming back into Ireland.
“It took him that one game to hit his straps, but I thought he was phenomenal again tonight. He is a massive part of our group.
“I want to stress again, for him and the whole group, we knew coming to Castres was going to be an 80-minute performance. We knew from the other sides that came here (La Rochelle and Stade Francais in the Top 14) and lost right at the death, so all credit to the Coombesy and the whole group.”