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'We gave them 45 minutes of hell,' says Ryan as Munster vow to come back stronger

There was a toll to be paid for Munster’s high-tempo kicking game.

THAT’S THE TROUBLE with rising to the very top of European rugby, there’s no easy way back down.

Yesterday’s crushing 26 – 10 defeat to Saracens was written on the wall well before the final whistle at the Aviva stadium, so when it came time to thank the travelling support in Dublin, Munster’s players were deep in the throes of suffering.

Dave O’Callaghan dejected Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Second up to face the media after Mark McCall’s unblemished victors, and there was still a lengthy delay before Rassie Erasmus and his players emerged from the dressing room. Once the South African had his charges in off the field and in the sanctity of the team room, he offered consoling words: there is still much to come from the group.

“It’s a very quiet dressing room in there,” said tighthead John Ryan with the unmistakable bashful smile that comes with intense disappointment. His initial summation of the game just gone comes out in quick-fire bursts:

“There was a bit of chat, we were beaten by the better side. It’s really tough to take. The amount of effort we made, the planning we did going into the game and they really squeezed the life out of us in the second half.”

Simon Zebo dejected Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ryan was perhaps the best bellweather for the contest. From the off, his scrummaging ensured the reigning champions were rocked back onto their own line. But bit by bit, the all-star Sarries pack turned a screw and the game.

The Corkman went into the game — his first European semi-final appearance after being an unused replacement against Clermont and Toulon in 2013 and 2014 — believing they had all the tools to claim the victory. And yet, an hour after full-time, the logic of the scoreline makes perfect sense.

“Looking around at the squad, it’s a very young squad. We’re probably now where Saracens were a few years ago. Look where they are now, they’ve built on that squad and it’s really strong.

We put it up to them. but as I said earlier, we gave them 45 minutes of hell, I think eventually our kicking game tired us out a bit.

“We got a lot of change out of the kicking game and we were pretty tenacious in defence. I think it caught up with us in the end. We got a bit gassed and they punished us at times when we weren’t clinical, we knocked on balls and they got some silly penalties…”

Ryan’s front row partner Niall Scannell looked back at an early moment that, with hindsight, told a tale. Munster’s best chance of the first-half, on the back of those magnificent pack efforts on the right flank, when they attempted to barge over the black wall, when a widescreen view or a little invention could have found the gaps.

“They’re a championship team,” says Scannell, suitably impressed by the current benchmark in this hemisphere.

Tommy O’Donnell tackled by Maro Itoje Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“There’s an experience, a calm and ease about there where they know exactly what they’re doing. You’re hammering their try-line in the first four minutes, they give away a penalty and we kick it. We’re thinking ‘here we go’, but they’re thinking ‘we’ll take (conceding) three points, they could have scored a try’.

“Then they go down and kick three, kick another three and they keep squeezing and squeezing. You’ve got to say hats off to them.”

To a man, everyone involved with Munster yesterday admitted the better team won out. There were fine margins that could have altered the course of the game in the first-half, but they weren’t mentioned or clung to in an effort to disprove what everyone had witnessed. Instead, the coaches and players are targetting the standards set by the Premiership champions yesterday.

Munster players dejected at the final whistle Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I definitely learned a lot today,” says Ryan, “I’ve been involved in two semi-finals before where I didn’t come off the bench. Today was huge for me to come up against a pack with five Lions in it. I know the standards required now. We need to reflect on that really and  we’ll be in a good place for the 80 minutes next time.

“We’ve to take the positives out of where we are now, where we were last year and just try and make that leap again.

“Come back and put in a better performance.”

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‘It’s hugely reassuring that Rassie’s staying’ — Scannell

‘We said on the pitch afterwards that we aren’t going to let this be the full stop’

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Sean Farrell

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