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Dublin: 2°C Sunday 7 March 2021

Van Graan wary of Edinburgh away from 'deafening' Thomond Park cauldron

Munster’s head coach quickly turned his thoughts to how tight the last knockout clash between the sides was.

Sean Farrell reports from Thomond Park

AS THE POOL permutations approached predictability last week, the prospect of an away quarter-final was made more palatable for most Munster supporters by the notion of it being in Edinburgh.

Alby Mathewson, Peter O'Mahony and Arno Botha celebrate at the final whistle Peter O'Mahony and Alby Mathewson celebrate the final whistle. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We don’t fear anyone,” as Johann van Graan said after the pulsating 9-7 win over Exeter Chiefs on Saturday. But few would have hand-picked a knockout tie away to either of last year’s Heineken Champions Cup finalists or Saracens in their rejuvenated clinical, vicious stance.

So Munster will go to Edinburgh on the final weekend in March (kick-off times and dates will be settled this week) to face Richard Cockerill’s terrific pool-topping outfit.

When the prospect was put to Van Graan on Saturday, he made sure not to touch on the most recent meeting between the teams – a thumping 44-14 win for Munster in Cork against a weakened Edinburgh. Instead, the pertinent past meeting was the knockout clash in Thomond Park in May.

In that Pro14 ‘quarter-final’, only a point separated the sides with 10 minutes to play before JJ Hanrahan settled s 20-16 home win.

“They have a very specific gameplan that they do well and they have got a lot of belief so if it were to be Edinburgh it would be a massively massively tight quarter final,” said Van Graan.

“And if you look at the competition you have to be really good to win an away quarter final.”

Dan Goggin celebrates the game winning tackle Dan Goggin celebrates. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Most will remember that Pro14 clash for the stellar match-turning moment from  Simon Zebo. This time around, he will of course be wearing blue and white stripes and preparing to face Toulouse in Paris. But Saturday night’s gutsy win over the Premiership leader helped to underline that Munster have found new stars.

Not least Joey Carbery, whose three coolly converted shots on goal proved the difference between the teams. Nights like that are why it made so much sense for him to leave Leinster behind and go south.

“It’s an extremely special place to come,” says the Athy man after guiding Munster through from an intense atmosphere in the pool finale.

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“When the crowd make themselves heard, it’s deafening and I’d say for the opposition it’s tough to come here and try and impose themselves. It kind of gives us energy then as well. It can swing you games, so the fans are extremely special to us, and we thank them every time, and tonight was an example of how good they were.”

It was a fine example too of how Carbery is able to shut out all the noise and focus on the task at hand. In a matchplay scenario that means nailing a kick. Filling the Munster number 10 shirt means taking on an enormous weight of history and responsibility on your shoulders. Right now he wears it well.

Joey Carbery Carbery prepares to slot one of his three penalties against Exeter. He has kicked 20 since his last miss. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I’ve looked at it game by game, week by week. But the people who have played 10 ahead of me in the years gone by, they are extremely good players and it’s a big role to fill. I suppose it’s kind of driving me on to be a better player and make the job easier for the team-mates around me.”

We’ve learned so much from these last four games that I think it just gives us a mindset to be excited, and feel like we can take on anyone.”

Carbery and his fellow new addition Tadhg Beirne are certainly adding to the Munster arsenal for this latest tilt at European glory. And Van Graan enters the knockout phase with two away wins fresh in the memory and confidence that his side are better equipped than they were approaching the semi-final stage last year.

Jonny Hill loses his jersey Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I’d like to think so, I think the way that we have dealt with the pressure over the last four weeks was pretty special and there was all different kinds of games,” says the head coach with a nod to the boiling points hit in the win over Leinster, the clinical victory in Galway and the balance struck between the two in Gloucester.

The South African stops himself in his tracks while praising the performance of his players against Exeter though. Because he is wary that the Six Nations is about to break up, if not the rich vein of form, then at least the personnel fueling it.

“We’ll go away now and we’ve got to keep improving, keep working on our fitness, our individual skills and the guys that stay behind need to improve again and hopefully we get out of the Six Nations well.

“We reassemble somewhere close to the end of March, it is literally going to be three training sessions and then we are into a quarter-final. So that’s going to be pretty important.”

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Sean Farrell

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