Munster boss van Graan 'incredibly disappointed' as home quarter-final hopes disappear

Leinster, already assured of top spot in the URC final standings, had rested their entire first XV ahead of next Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final
Munster boss van Graan 'incredibly disappointed' as home quarter-final hopes disappear

GOTCHA: Munster's Joey Carbery is stopped in his tracks by Rory O'Loughlin of Leinster. 

Johann van Graan bemoaned his side’s lack of a clinical edge as Munster missed out on a home United Rugby Championship quarter-final by losing to a second-string Leinster in Dublin on Saturday night.

Munster needed to defeat their arch-rivals with a four-try bonus-point to climb into second spot behind Leinster and ensure they would play their URC play-off matches at Thomond Park but their 35-25 loss at Aviva Stadium meant they finished sixth in the final standings and must now travel to Belfast on June 4 for their last-eight knockout game.

Leinster were worthy winners having taken an early lead through Scott Penny before Munster hit back with tries from Jack O’Donoghue and Mike Haley. A try for scrum-half Cormac Foley on his home debut helped Leinster to a 15-12 half-time lead but they trailed 19-15 after 42 minutes. That was when Conor Murray’s try, Munster’s third, had edged the visitors in front against a home side down to 14 men following a yellow card for wing Rob Russell and had them looking all set for a try bonus point.

Yet the game turned on its head at 22-18 to Munster when a Cormac Foley 50-22 kick sent Leinster upfield and from the resulting lineout a powerful maul drive produced both a penalty try and a yellow card for Reds hooker Niall Scannell.

Another converted try, this time from Rory O’Loughlin within three minutes of that score opened up a lead Munster could not come back from. A Joey Carbery penalty closed the gap to 32-25 with 20 minutes to go but Harry Byrne’s own three-pointer on 70 minutes took even the losing bonus-point away from van Graan’s side and left the Munster head coach ruing wasted opportunities.

“The first half, they started well and we came back, I felt we created a lot in the first half and not near clinical enough,” van Graan said. “We created opportunities and we didn’t use them. Against a team like them they are going to use their chance.

“Straight after half time, we started well and then minutes 49-53 the clock went away so they scored with that penalty try and we went down to 14 and they scored straight away. Being up 22-18 we went down 32-22 and then we have to play catch-up.

“We are incredibly disappointed and we came here to win tonight and we weren’t clinical enough to do it so fair play to them.” 

Leinster, already assured of top spot in the URC final standings, had rested their entire first XV ahead of next Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final with La Rochelle but welcomed back full-back Jordan Larmour from injury and saw him stake a claim for a place in the squad for Marseille next weekend with a man of the match performance of dazzling counter-attack play from deep. Leo Cullen’s men will now face a home quarter-final against eighth-placed Glasgow Warriors the week after their European finale.

Munster had at one stage in the contest been staring a trip to South Africa for the quarters but ironically their failure to get a losing bonus point has left them with an Irish derby in Belfast in two weeks.

“That’s the way the chips have fallen now,” van Graan added. “We performed well the previous time we went up there but this is going to be a knockout game, a quarter-final to progress further in the competition.

“Ulster are a quality side, a good forward pack with a good kicking game. It will be a new competition now, eight teams in it and if you want to go further you’ve got to win your quarter-final and that’s what we need to do against Ulster.”

The composure of Leinster’s young guns to come from behind and beat a strong Munster side was the key takeway from their delighted boss Leo Cullen.

“It was a really pleasing result,” Cullen said, “and lots of good stuff in the game. Right from the start Ryan Baird goes up, gets a hand on it, we get the ball down and it leads to a (Scott Penny) score inside the first couple of minutes of the game. Lots of really good stuff. Munster had their moments as well.

“One of the most pleasing parts is probably the start of the second half, Munster get that try, the ball goes up in the air and they get the bounce and it was a little bit of fortune, obviously they take the try.

“But the composure of our guys, particularly with some young guys, would they get themselves back into the game? But to be fair, they get a fair bit of control back into the game and produce plenty of moments. 

“Overall we’re delighted to get the win. You see guys growing in terms of the experience bit, and you want them to be better in the future. And to get through that in front of over 30,000 people, it’s fantastic.” 

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