Johann van Graan praises Munster's maturity
Leicester coach Matt O’Connor says Munster have rediscovered their edge
Munster coach Johann van Graan during the Champions Cup match against Leicester at Welford Road. Photograph: Henry Browne/Getty Images
Johann van Graan’s tenure as Munster head coach could hardly have begun more impressively. By completing a seismic European Champions Cup double over Leicester he could be forgiven for thinking he has this tournament licked, but this softly-spoken modest South African would never be that presumptuous.
Nevertheless it’s also clear he is quickly buying into the Munster zeitgeist after being chucked in at the deep end. Experiencing two of the great citadels of European rugby at their atmospheric best has made a swift impression on him.
When asked what he has made of Munster’s last two outings at Thomond Park and Welford Road, he seemed to become even a little emotional.
“Look, it’s been an incredible four weeks for me, finishing off with the Springboks and coming in here. I always want it to be about the team, not about me. I’m a guy that’s not ego-driven. It’s all about the guys that are here. I really want to make sure that guys are happy, that guys improve and be part of a winning team.
“It’s been quite a four weeks for me personally, but all credit to the team. Thomond Park was absolutely fantastic last week, and to come here and win away, the Munster people who came out tonight, the singing, and all credit to the Tigers’ supporters that stayed until the end, and it was a massive battle.
“So, I’m really grateful for that, and we’ll enjoy tonight, and I’ll enjoy tonight, and start again on zero.”
Hailing “a great night for Munster”, van Graan added: “This was always going to be a massive game not only for the Champions Cup but the growth of this team. Winning away in the fourth round, I’m very happy with that performance. It wasn’t perfect at all, but we’ll take this win.”
Van Graan had highlighted the need for discipline, and the way his players kept their heads while all Leicester were losing theirs was a key factor in them wrestling back control of the game not once but twice.
“Yea, I said last week we weren’t happy with our discipline. I thought we adapted quite well to the referee last week and even better this week. We knew this was going to be a totally different battle. There weren’t going to be a lot of steals, which I don’t think there were any in the game, possibly bar the last one.
“So I’m very happy with the composure and maturity shown by the team. We want to go to the next level. This team is hungry to grow, and very happy with the away result tonight.”
His Leicester counterpart Matt O’Connor admitted: “We had our chances to win it but full credit to Munster. They deserved the win, and they probably won the big moments and applied scoreboard pressure, which we didn’t do, and that was the difference in the end.”
Of the heavy first-half penalty count which went against his team, O’Connor said: “It certainly made it hard; 12-2 penalty count at home is a little bit unique but it is what it is.”
Asked to comment on the decisions of referee Mathieu Raynal this week he bit his tongue: “I’m not going to comment on the match officials at all. Not worth it.”
O’Connor knows Munster well from his two years at Leinster, and said of them: “They’ve had some time together, they’ve got their Munster edge back. They’d probably lost that. When I was at Leinster they were in a bit of a rebuilding phase with Rob [Penney] and they didn’t really know what their identity was.
“They’ve gone back to their genuine DNA, and they’re a hard team to break down. They’re incredibly committed and physical and well drilled, and they demonstrated it tonight.”
As to whether Munster can be contenders to win the tournament, he said: “They’re always there or thereabouts, aren’t they? They’re in pole position now in the group. If they can get enough points to end up at Thomond they’re contenders for sure.”
For his current team the focus for the remainder of the season will now have to be on the Premiership. The consequences of these defeats were, he admitted, “enormous”.
“The guys are really disappointed. We thought at the start of the season we could realistically have gotten out of this group. The reality of Champions Cup is you have to produce every day, and we were second best to Munster across the two legs, and as a result it’s near impossible to go through.”