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Dublin: 3 °C Monday 10 December, 2018

'It's been an incredible four weeks for me but it's not about me. I’m a guy that’s not ego-driven'

Johann van Graan hopes Sunday’s win at Leicester acts as the launchpad for Munster’s season.

Ryan Bailey reports from Welford Road

A GOOD FORTY-FIVE minutes after the final whistle, and when the majority inside Welford Road had filtered out into the bitterly cold December evening, a small band of Munster fans waited patiently under the south stand.

Munster celebrate after the game 17/12/2017 The Munster players celebrate their Champions Cup win over Leicester. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The Sunday evening kick-off meant most of the red army were forced to make this an overnight trip to the Midlands, but even still they were keen to stay behind to revel in one of the province’s great European wins.

The Fields of Athenry had already reverberated around this old ground at various stages during the second half, the decibel levels growing louder as Munster inched towards the line, but Stand Up and Fight was soon to be heard around Leicester.

Vastly contrasting fortunes from 12 months ago.

Johann van Graan said the squad studied the tape of that defeat closely this week and certainly they learned their lessons as they went about formulating a game plan to bring Leicester to their knees for the second time in a week.

Disciplined, clinical, accurate, composed and thoroughly professional, Munster produced their best to grind out the most impressive and significant of Pool 4 wins — and now they head into the New Year with one foot in the quarter-finals.

It has been quite the start for van Graan, who appeared to be emotional in the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s win, as he reflected on four victories since he assumed the role.

“Look, it’s been an incredible four weeks for me, finishing off with the Springboks and coming in here,” he said.

“I always want it to be about the team, not about me. I’m a guy that’s not ego-driven. It’s all about the guys that are here. I really want to make sure that guys are happy that guys improve and be part of a winning team.”

Shortly after he completed his post-match media obligations, van Graan made his way out of the away dressing room to where the Munster supporters had gathered. There, he posed for photos and generally chatted to those who made the effort on the weekend before Christmas to come and support his team.

He then made his way down the Welford Road tunnel where upon getting to the edge of the pitch stopped and had one final look around the empty ground, taking it all in before taking a photo on his phone.

“It’s been quite a four weeks for me personally, but all credit to the team,” he continues.

“Thomond Park was absolutely fantastic last week and to come here and win away, the Munster people who came out tonight, the singing, and all credit to the Tigers’ supporters that stayed until the end and it was a massive battle.”

“So, I’m really grateful for that, and we’ll enjoy tonight, and I’ll enjoy tonight, and start again on zero.”

Before then, van Graan is sure to examine aspects of this game a little closer and while admitting it wasn’t a perfect performance, there were significant areas of improvement, most notably Munster’s discipline. This performance at Welford Road now sets the benchmark.

“I said last week, we weren’t happy with our discipline,” the South African said. “I thought we adapted quite well to the referee last week and even better this week. We know this was going to be a totally different battle, there weren’t going to be a lot of steals, which I don’t think there were any in the game, possibly bar the last one.”

Peter O'Mahony and Ian Keatley celebrate after the game 17/12/2017 O'Mahony was named MOTM. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Peter O’Mahony played a large part in that. The captain, and man of the match, was immense on Sunday.

“I thought it was a world-class performance by a world-class player,” van Graan says of O’Mahony. “The announcement of him staying, it’s massive for Munster but he never made it about himself. It was all about the team and about the performance. So well done to Pete for a magnificent performance.

“All credit to the pack. All credit to Jerry, who came up with the plan; Billy Holland, who spends hours dissecting lineouts and, you know, we came up with something this week in the lineouts and put them under quite a bit of pressure.

“So very happy with the composure and maturity shown by the team. We want to go to the next level. This team is hungry to grow and very happy with the away result.”

Away wins in Europe are a priceless commodity, particularly when you consider how tight and competitive Munster’s pool is. It moves the province four points clear of Racing 92 and puts them in a very strong position ahead of the round five trip to France.

“It’s massive to win away at Welford Road, this will be a reference point for us but this is a long season, there’s a long way to go. This competition takes a break now, we go back to play Racing 92 away again in a few weeks time but all attention will go to the Pro14 –three interprovincial derbies will be really tough on everybody involved in Ireland but you’ve got to enjoy wins, we’ll enjoy tonight, enjoy the next few days then go right back to zero and start again.”

That’s van Graan’s ethos; regardless of the result, hit the reset button again. He says it over and over again. And it’ll be the same message this week ahead of the St Stephen’s Day inter-pro against Leinster.

With O’Mahony signed up, attention now turns to CJ Stander and the renewal of his contract.

“I think we’ll just take it day by day,” van Graan added. “There’s a lot of negotiations going on behind the scenes, but now we’d like to create a very happy environment for our players, a place where people can grow, be themselves and play for Munster.

“We want to make a club rich in tradition and also moving forward, so keeping world-class players and attracting more world-class players would be one of the big things that we look to do, so hopefully he stays.”

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):

O’Connor: Leicester second best to a Munster side who have their edge back

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

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Ryan Bailey

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