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'I'm very proud to be part of this club and that's the reason why I came here'

Johann van Graan has thanked the Munster management, players, ground staff and supporters after the province booked their place in the Champions Cup quarters.

Munster progress through to a record 17th quarter-final.
Munster progress through to a record 17th quarter-final.
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from Thomond Park

JOHANN VAN GRAAN praised Munster’s management and playing staff for the way they adapted to circumstances to produce a performance brimming with passion and purpose as the province safely progressed through to the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

The three-hour delay to kick off due to a waterlogged pitch at Thomond Park meant Munster’s wait to nail a place in the knockout stages was prolonged, but they did so in style by swatting Castres aside in emphatic fashion.

Munster were dominant and powerful in the set-piece and the punch their pack carried ensured this was another rousing display in do-or-die territory, as the hosts crossed six times to set-up a quarter-final clash with three-time winners Toulon.

The ovation the players received at full-time told its own story on a day when Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Ian Keatley were standout performers and the front five all produced industrious and tireless shifts, while CJ Stander and Chris Cloete deserve a special mention.

To a man, in fact, Munster were outstanding and although they started slowly — largely owing to Castres’ early intent and the pedantic officiating of Ben Whitehouse — soon seized complete control to advance as Pool 3 winners.

“Very happy about the win,” Van Graan said afterwards.

“The most important thing was how we as a squad adapted because if you don’t adapt on days like these things can go wrong. Happy with that win.”

The head coach was relieved more than anything else, particularly after the squad had returned to their nearby hotel following the midday pitch inspection deemed the surface unplayable.

“We as a squad believe you can never communicate enough,” he explained. “So together with Niall [O'Donovan, manager] and the coaches and senior players we decided to go back to the hotel, treat it as a new game.

“Some of the guys ate again, some of the guys went for a nap. I encouraged the guys to get away from the game for an hour, made a new time, got back together and refocused our plan, because initially we thought there would be a lot of water on the field. Then we anticipated that at 4pm a lot of water would have been removed and we had to adapt our plan again.

Johann van Graan Van Graan speaking after the game. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“It was quite an easy ride back to the stadium but well done to the management and the players for the way we adapted to the conditions of the day.”

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In addition, Castres clearly arrived with every intention of spoiling the party, and frustrated the hosts with their indiscipline throughout the 80 minutes — they conceded a total of 18 penalties and had two men sent to the bin.

“Our opponents came to play, right to the end they played,” Van Graan continued. “The breakdown was quite scrappy and I thought they contested the maul very well. I thought the first 20 minutes we handled well into the wind, kept our discipline and we managed to get some go forward ball.

“I thought we could have scored a bit earlier but scored that try [through Keith Earls] and we readjusted at half-time in terms of what we wanted to do.”

Once Earls flew over in the far corner, Munster had broken Castres’ futile resistance and were well on their way. By the hour mark, they were home and housed.

Two of the second-half scores came from powerful and compact rolling mauls, another was a result of their supremacy at the scrum and Simon Zebo’s bonus-point clinching try was quite the way to seal the deal.

With Toulon providing the opposition in the quarter-finals, Van Graan was asked for his initial reaction but, clearly emotional, instead spoke at length about the pride he felt after a roller-coaster day.

“My initial reaction is that I’m very proud to be part of this club,” the South African said.

“Everybody will think about the result and the way that we did it. To the people of Munster, the ground staff who did so well that got that field in playing condition, and for the supporters to come back after three hours and stay until late night, to give the support that they did.

“To the management, to really adapt our diet of what we ate and to the players for that performance out there. It’s not the score, it’s the way we won.
“I said on the first day when I came here for the Racing 92 game, Thomond Park has got magic, the magic is what the people deliver. I am very proud to be part of this.”I’m going to enjoy tonight.”

He won’t be the only one.

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):

Quarter-final shake-up pits Leinster against Saracens while Munster host Toulon

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Ryan Bailey

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