Match-winner Hanrahan happy to give JVG 'as many headaches as possible'

The out-half made all the difference against Benetton as he continued his excellent end-of-season form.

Ryan Bailey reports from Thomond Park

ONCE NIGEL OWENS had marched the penalty forward for Dewaldt Duvenage’s costly show of petulance, JJ Hanrahan was firm in his mind. This was his moment, the match-winning moment.

There was some discourse over the legitimacy of CJ Stander’s turnover as replays clearly showed Munster’s number eight goes off his feet, and certainly the Benetton scrum-half’s frustration in kicking the ball away was understandable.

JJ Hanrahan kicks the winning penalty Hanrahan nails the winning kick at Thomond Park. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But Hanrahan had no hesitation in calling for the tee and taking the long-range kick on, with the replacement out-half nailing his third penalty attempt from 50 metres to hand Munster a 15-13 win and a passage through to the Pro14 semi-finals.

The 26-year-old, a second-half replacement for Tyler Bleyendaal, not only split the posts from the halfway line to finish the game with nine points, but made a considerable impact off the bench as he brought energy and attacking enterprise to an otherwise blunt Munster performance. 

It was another excellent cameo from Hanrahan, who had impressed against Saracens and Connacht in recent weeks, and the Kerry man must now be really pushing Bleyendaal for the starting jersey should Joey Carbery fail to make the semi-final against Leinster.

“Credit to JJ, as a number 10 that’s the moment you want,” Johann van Graan said afterwards. “If those moments arise you want to kick it. From the top, I saw that as soon as the penalty came he walked straight forward and wanted the ball.

“That’s what you want from your goal-kicker. To actually nail it, that’s why you train for years and years for moments like this — to put your team in a winning position even when the performance was below par. All credit to JJ.”

On the winning penalty, Hanrahan said: “Yeah, it’s always a nice feeling when you put the ball down and see the grass blowing forward — you’ve the wind behind you and that makes it a little easier.

“So, we knew we’d a wind. It was probably the limit of my range but it was nice to see it go over.

“I’s nice to be hitting a bit of form at this stage of the year definitely. It’s the business end and it’s when you want to be on top of the ground. Trying to give this man [Johann van Graan] as many headaches as possible. It’s nice, yeah. Definitely good to hit a bit of form.”

Hanrahan’s 76th-minute penalty, coupled with a big defensive set from Munster at the death, denied Benetton a famous win in Limerick after the Italians produced an outstanding performance on their debut appearance in the Pro14 play-offs.

Kieran Crowley’s side led for much of a tight contest and ought to have really got over the line here, but were guilty of spurning three gilt-edged scoring chances in the second half before Munster fought back in the final quarter.

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It was far from a vintage Munster performance in front of just 10,042 at Thomond and although they ultimately got out of jail thanks to Hanrahan’s place-kicking, most concerning was again their inability to break down the opposition defence. 

Johann van Graan and JJ Hanrahan Van Graan and Hanrahan in the post-match press conference. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Although enjoying the majority of possession and territory, Munster fired blanks and were too often guilty of kicking the ball away rashly rather than remaining patient through the phases. 

Van Graan admitted his side were below-par, but despite Benetton wasting a couple of try-scoring opportunities and then seeing two last-minute drop-goal attempts go wide, insisted Munster weren’t let off the hook.

“I wouldn’t say we got out of jail,” the head coach continued. “We knew these guys [Benetton] were exceptional throughout the whole season, their last two visits to Ireland were draws with Leinster and Ulster.

“I thought we started the game pretty well, we didn’t take our opportunities which was frustrating when we created them. I think we created some very good opportunities especially in that first 20 minutes, I think it was five or six that we were in the 22.

“Our execution let us down so we didn’t use all the opportunities that went our way. 

But credit to them for scoring that try before half-time, that gave them a lot of confidence and like I said the performance wasn’t good enough, but it’s a knockout game and the only thing that matters is at the end of the game is that you’ve got more points than your opponents.

In holding on, Munster booked a place in their fourth Pro14 semi-final in five years to keep their hopes of silverware alive for another season, although they know they must improve across all facets if they are to stand any chance against Leinster on 18 May. 

“I said to the team, we’re still alive in this competition and we’re in a semi-final of the Pro14,” van Graan added. “We’re going to play the champions next in their own backyard.  

Playing the Champions Cup final, they’re the current European and Pro14 champions, so, that will be our biggest game of the season going to the RDS.

“We’ll take a few days break now, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster after the last seven or eight weeks. Our team haven’t had a bye week as of yet from the Zebre game, it’s been pretty much all guns blazing every week.

“We’ll use this week smartly from our side, regroup, take our time, look at our game and then start looking against the best team in Europe currently. Then, it’s very exciting to go to Dublin.”

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Ryan Bailey

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