Munster find 13 the unluckiest number as Van Graan bemoans discipline
‘The message is we will come back stronger next year’
Munster’s Keith Earls, Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander and Chris Farrell dejected at the final whistle of the Guinness Pro 14 semi-final against Leinster at the RDS. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
In the wake of yet another semi-final loss, the fourth in Johann van Graan’s brief tenure, their head coach cited the 13-7 penalty count against his side as the primary fault line in their 24-9 Guinness Pro14 semi-final defeat by Leinster.
Their season having come to an end with another thud in the same setting as a year ago, when they came within a point of their auld adversaries, Van Graan cited “discipline” as the key difference between the sides.
“They started off in the first two minutes with a penalty. We were straight back to 3-3. I thought we played some really good rugby in the first half. They got that penalty on the stroke of half-time to give them a three-point lead. Straight after half-time we conceded that yellow card and in the 10th minute of that yellow card they scored their try and we fell behind to 19-9 and then the penalty count was something like 13-6. You can’t concede 13 penalties in an away semi-final.”
This was also Munster’s eighth semi-final defeat, along with two final losses, since they last lifted a trophy in 2011, but Van Graan maintained: “The message is we will come back stronger next year”.
“Firstly, we will review this game in the coming week. The effort and attitude I can’t fault. They gave it everything out there. Unfortunately we got beaten by a better team on the day. We did some really good things but you can’t give them 13 times that they go to a lineout from a penalty and then they put you under pressure and you’ve got to defend in your own half against a quality team like Leinster.”
However, as telling as the penalty count was, and despite their undoubted effort, winning more possession and more territory, Munster managed just one linebreak to Leinster’s 10 as well as being out-scored by two tries to nil.
When losing 16-15 in the same fixture exactly a year ago, Simon Zebo created one of their two tries with a try-scoring offload to Keith Earls and almost helped steal the match from their own line when again linking with Earls.
That marked his last match in a Munster shirt, and exactly 12 months on, as if to prove his alternate playmaking, passing, footwork, offloading and finishing are still sorely missed, while Munster’s attack was being kept largely in check by Leinster’s defence he was scoring a hat-trick for Racing in their 52-14 win away against Perpignan.
“We could have built more pressure,” said Van Graan when asked about Munster’s attack. “We got a few penalties and you have to use your opportunities. I felt that in the second half there were a few big moments – that charge down off Rory [Scannell], it just didn’t bounce up.
“Then Joey [Carbery] kicked it into the corner and it rolled out, they get a five-yard lineout and we concede a penalty straight away. I’m going to go back, once again, to discipline. It wasn’t good enough from the whole group on the day and you’ve got to finish those opportunities in a semi-final. It’s soft exits and we’ve got to take that on the chin.”
When asked if the apparent needle which re-surfaced after the feisty affair in December when Munster beat Leinster in Thomond Park, Peter O’Mahony retorted: “What else would you expect from a derby, do you know what I mean? It’s a derby. There’s a lot at stake. It’s a semi-final. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
As is usually the case when coach and captain sit side by side, and not least in the aftermath of another defeat that was particularly hard to swallow, O’Mahony’s assessment of the match echoed that of Van Graan.
“You can’t come to somewhere like Leinster and concede 13 penalties, a lot of them in crucial moments as well, either kickable or we had them under pressure in their 22 and a big release-valve.
“We were playing some great rugby as well. They certainly played well as well, I’m not taking away from that; their ability to keep the ball going forward. Certainly for some of those penalties, you’re on the back foot. Some of them are silly as well and we can’t have any arguments.”
O’Mahony candidly admitted after last season’s Champions Cup semi-final defeat by Racing in Bordeaux that he was “sick of losing semi-finals”, but here he defiantly maintained: “Look, we’ve had huge positives this year. We’ve taken big steps forward, as have other teams obviously.
“It would be a different animal, me sitting here, and we were out of Europe in the group stages and we didn’t progress in the latter stages of this. We’re doing a lot of things right, we just need to figure where we can get the extra per cent or two.”