Johann van Graan wasn’t concealing his own personal disappointment and the deep frustration in the Munster camp as players and management reflected on the error-ridden first half hour in Bordeaux on Sunday that condemned the province to yet another semi-final defeat in the European Champions Cup.
They were all back at the High Performance Centre in UL yesterday reviewing the performance against Racing 92 and somehow trying to find ways of lifting themselves for a Guinness PRO14 clash against Ulster at Thomond Park on Saturday, with the certainty of a quarter-final game a week later at the same venue.
The Munster head coach readily admitted that the psychological battle will not be easily won: ”Mentally it will be very difficult to get guys fully back up”, he accepted.
“I won’t beat about the bush on that. Ever since I came here, I saw how much Munster are in love with European rugby, what it means to the players, the management team and the supporters. The incredible support we had in Bordeaux at the weekend shows that.
There is no escaping the reality that Munster have started too many recent matches way off the pace, most notably in the European Cup games, against Toulon and Racing, and even in South Africa against Southern Kings and the Cheetahs, and the worst scenario came to pass on Sunday last.
“One of the big things that stood out in the review this morning was that we lost the collisions in defence”, he stressed.
“Everybody looked at when the tries were scored but when you looked three or four phases back, Racing were so ferocious that they got momentum and sucked in our numbers and it was pretty difficult to stop.
“The second thing I would say, on a positive note, is that we created so many opportunities but we didn’t use them and score.
“Even when we were 7-3 down, we had quite a few opportunities five metres from the try line ... one or two decisions could have been different but, you know, players make those decisions and whatever decisions they make, we back them.
“We review them and looking back we could have made different and better decisions on the field. It wasn’t to be.
“Everybody talks about the first 20 minutes but it was the 30 to 40 minutes of the game when we actually got into the game, with opportunities to score five or six tries one metre out, that cost us a well”, he reasoned.
“You’ve got to give credit to the opposition for the way they stopped it but had our option taking been better we could have possibly scored”.
Van Graan insists his team selection was the right one and had no regrets about the relegation of Simon Zebo to the replacements panel.
“That’s the beauty of sport, it’s so unpredictable”, he mused.
“We as a team sat down and discussed all the detail and we were in unison as players and coaches.
“We did everything over the last three weeks to be as well prepared as we could be. And the most frustrating thing is that in those first 30 minutes, we didn’t execute to plan.
“In the second half, I thought we put them under real pressure and from where I viewed the game, the longer it went on, the more holes we got and we scored some fantastic tries.
“Then there were one or two opportunities, like Rhys (Marshall) going over the line (try disallowed because of referee obstructing Racing defence) and the pass from Simon (Zebo) to Robin Copeland (being ruled forward by touch judge Wayne Barnes) and the opposition conceding multiple penalty infringements on their own goal line. That’s not an excuse, it’s just factual as to what happened.
“Obviously guys rejoined their families yesterday; we faced everything that happened today as a group, players took accountability, coaches took accountability, now we look forward.”
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