It was always likely that Munster wouldn’t be remotely inclined to hold back when it came to this Saturday’s Guinness Pro 14 decider against their main domestic rivals of recent times. Nine years without a trophy and three successive semi-finals to those same opponents tends to narrow the focus.
Since Munster’s last trophy success, in what was then the Magners League, when beating Leinster in the final back in May 2011 at Thomond Park, Leinster’s cupboard overfloweth. They have added a couple more Heineken Champions Cups to the two they’d already won, a European Challenge Cup and five more titles in this competition to augment the two they’d already won.
Since Munster last reached the final, when beaten convincingly by Glasgow in Belfast, Leinster have not only beaten them in three successive semi-finals, but have gone on to win the final too.
So, while some of his contingent have just come straight off a Six Nations campaign and Toulouse loom seven days subsequently in a last 16 knock-out, Johann van Graan makes it clear this final has dominated their thinking since reaching it three weeks ago, and probably before then.
“You’ve got to look at what has happened in the past and you’ve got to look forward, but in terms of our focus this is a first final that we’ve played in four years so all of our focus has been only on Leinster.
“What happens next week will happen next week, obviously another massive game against Toulouse, currently one of the top French teams, but that’s a whole different competition. That’s the Champions Cup and for us it would be brilliant to come through Saturday. So all of our focus the last few weeks has only been on Leinster.”
Munster have lost eight of nine meetings with Leinster since Van Graan’s arrival in November 2017. Three of the last four have been one-score games, and while Van Graan again lamented the inability to take chances, he admitted they’ve come up short in other ways too.
Citing how their lineout malfunctioned when losing 13-10 at Thomond Park in January and how their scrum also needs to perform against an all-international frontrow which builds pressure through scrum penalties, Van Graan added: “Once they get into the 22, they punish teams so our discipline has to be top notch.
"Then our big players need to play well in the game, an example was that special try scored by Mike Haley against Connacht. On big occasions, big players step to the fore and we've got a few very important players for us that need to play well on the day."
The Six Nations was also a reminder of the heightened influence of yellow and red cards, he added, as well as games going to the wire. “We’ve got to be very good until that final whistle goes.”
Now in his fourth season with the province, Van Graan realises how much a trophy would mean.
“We are all very proud of where we come from, whether you’ve been part of Munster since you were born or you came to Munster. Earlsy said to me the very first week that I got here, he said: ‘You can never go somewhere else now. You’re part of Munster’. That’s what makes this club special and it’s all about the community.
“This is very important to us, it’s very important for the people who support us through good and through bad times, and that’s why we are looking forward to this so much, because a final doesn’t come along very often. You work incredibly hard for it and that’s why we’re going to enjoy it and embrace it on the weekend.
“What better way to go and play against the three-in-a-row champions. They are such a fantastic rugby team. There is no way around it. We have to get past them to get this trophy.”