Johann van Graan hails the belief of his patched-up Munster side
‘If you’ve got a squad of players who believe and a club that believes, you can make dreams come true’
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony celebrates Andrew Conway’s try during the Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulon at Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
Munster coach Johann van Graan thanked his players and then thanked God. It was, he said a small margin of victory but a demonstration of belief by the Munster team.
Another win. On to a semi-final. It was almost as if he was finding it hard to believe that Munster had actually pulled it off.
“Incredible game of rugby,” said the Munster coach. “I said from day one it’s not about me. I want to be part of something special.
“One point is the biggest and the smallest margin in the world. I like to believe our heart was a deciding factor.
“It is incredible what belief can make human beings do. We knew were up against it as soon as the draw was made.”
Relieved and exhausted from the emotional swings in the game, Van Graan acknowledged that his team took a lot of physical punishment and a heavy toll with Simon Zebo having to leave the pitch early in the match.
“Simon Zebo was upset because he wanted to play 80 minutes,” said the coach. “To be honest it’s like a war zone in the changing room, a lot of bumps and bruises.
“A lot of ebbs and swings . . . I thought they started very well but we fought our way back into it. We scored a try, they scored a try. We play for situations like this but it is hard to execute.”
Overall, Van Graan said he owed the win entirely to his players. Munster had come into the match with a string of injuries and a number of positions, especially in the back line, were patched up. They left Thomond Park with even more injuries but much stronger hearts.
“I think gratitude is the word,” said Van Graan. “Two great rugby sides who went for it for 80-odd minutes.
“[You] plan for it but [it’s] pretty hard to execute it, I think gratitude is the main word, it’s a fantastic honour.
“I don’t think many people gave us a chance but if you’ve got a squad of players who believe and a club that believes, you can make dreams come true.
“I think we can still improve a lot,” he added. “But most definitely yes [we can improve].
“We really focused on our work rate. The Munster way is the difficult way. I think our discipline pulled us through.”
Man of the match Peter O’Mahony instantly pointed to the performance of the backs, several of whom would not have played had Munster played with a full deck.
The flanker admitted that Munster found themselves in a hole but the back three put their bodies on the line time and time again.
“That was particularly tough and to be six points behind was not the place we wanted to be,” said O’Mahony.
“But I thought the backs were superb today, it was one of the best performances from a Munster backline against a team of world-class athletes.
“Our back three put in last-ditch tackles and took a lot of momentum away from them.
“We knew we were going to be under the pump and prepared for it, we certainly could have done some things better.”
O’Mahony reserved a large chunk of his praise for Andrew Conway. the former Blackrock player’s catch and return in the dying minutes transformed the match in Munster’s favour.
“I don’t know, it was incredibly gutsy,” said O’Mahony. “It was certainly up there. Guys dug in. Andrew Conway there, a lot of guys would have been happy to let the ball go out but we’re lucky enough to have guys like that in our team.”