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'A great night for Munster': Van Graan proud of his team's composure and maturity

The Munster head coach said he was pleased with the way his players defended their line right until the final whistle.

Ian Keatley and Simon Zebo celebrate Munster's win at Leicester.
Ian Keatley and Simon Zebo celebrate Munster's win at Leicester.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from Welford Road

NOT MANY TEAMS come to this place and leave unscathed, let alone with victory to their name — but Munster, and their legion of travelling fans, make tracks for home with a little bit of history with them.

In condemning Leicester Tigers to just their third European defeat on home soil in the last decade, the province also became the first side ever to beat the English side back-to-back in this competition.

That alone is quite the achievement and underlines the significance of this result, a 25-16 win.

“A great night for Munster,” Johann van Graan said afterwards. “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.”

Munster showed incredible discipline and composure at various stages during this intense and physical encounter and 20 points from the boot of Ian Keatley and CJ Stander’s try shortly after the break saw them over the line.

Van Graan’s side now head into the busy inter-pro schedule — they have games against Leinster, Ulster and Connacht in the space of 11 days — in great health in the Champions Cup, with today’s result leaving them four points clear of Racing 92 in Pool 4.

Munster were again superior in most facets of play, no more so than at the set-piece and breakdown, but also in their discipline with Leicester losing their head and leaking 14 penalties in total; Keatley converted six into three-pointers.

But the visitors did have to weather an early Tigers storm, with Matt O’Connor’s side coming flying out of the traps seeking revenge for last Saturday’s heavy defeat in Limerick. While initially rewarded, the hosts’ over-aggressive approach cost them dearly.

“It was a mature performance,” van Graan said of his side. “We didn’t start the game well. But we weathered the storm. We adjusted well at half-time. And that was a very good second half performance under extreme pressure

Conor Murray and Ben Youngs 17/12/2017 Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We knew there was going to be a lot of pressure on us. We conceded that early try but the brilliant thing is we planned for situations, and we got that penalty straight back.”

Matthew Tait’s early try had given Leicester the perfect start but Munster grew in stature after an uncertain start and soon turned the screw as they maintained possession and hammered away at a Tigers defence which continually infringed at the breakdown.

Keatley made them pay as he kicked four first-half penalties to give Munster a slender half-time advantage, before Stander stretched the lead with a close-range finish after a brilliant Conor Murray break.

“We were very happy with the lead at half time, although we weren’t happy with the first 40,” the Munster coach continued. “We got the lead again and the way we defended our line I was very happy with that.

“We’ve done a lot of scenario planning about what might happen in games. We conceded the yellow card [John Ryan], which was totally unnecessary, but the way the 14 guys on the field responded, I’m proud of that.”

Van Graan reserved special praise for the performance of man-of-the-match Peter O’Mahony, Keatley and the ever-reliable and brilliant Murray, who again marshalled proceedings.

“We knew it was a mammoth task to come here and pull off a victory,” the South African added. “We did a lot of research on the game last year and what happened. We learnt out of that and like I said before the leadership and decision makers, most notably nine and 10, closed out the game really well.”

On O’Mahony, van Graan said: “Firstly for Peter, it’s fantastic that he’s going to stay with Munster but proud of all 23 guys involved and the coaching staff. It takes a real team effort to come and win here. It was a good finish for a hard four weeks.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Ryan Bailey

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