'We had quite a bit of sickness in the week, but it was literally just the next man in'

Munster coach Johann van Graan was pleased with his team’s fighting spirit as the province left Sandy Park with a 13-8 defeat.

Munster players celebrate Shane Daly's try.
Munster players celebrate Shane Daly's try.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

JOHANN VAN GRAAN said Munster are still in the fight after watching his side produce a massive defensive effort against Exeter Chiefs in their Champions Cup round of 16 first leg meeting, the province overcoming injuries and illness to leave Sandy Park with a 13-8 defeat.

Munster were decimated by injuries in the lead-up to the game and travelled to Exeter without Ireland internationals Tadhg Beirne, Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway, Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony and Dave Kilcoyne, before Simon Zebo and Diarmuid Barron both dropped out of the matchday squad with illness.

When Stuart Hogg raced through for Exeter’s opening try after just six minutes, it looked as though Munster could be in for a long, difficult afternoon, but the province only trailed 10-0 at half-time and delivered a spirited second-half performance to keep the tie alive ahead of next Saturday’s return leg at Thomond Park.

Shane Daly crossed for Munster’s only try of the game with 66 minutes played as the momentum swung in a gripping second half, while Exeter will be disappointed to leave further scores behind them as they charged at the Munster line in the dying minutes. All in all, Munster will be delighted to take just a five-point deficit back to Limerick.

“We weren’t accurate enough in the first half,” Van Graan said.

“They got at us at the scrum and breakdown. I thought we turned that around in the second half and applied pressure. There were big moments in this game where they could have scored (but we held them out.)

“We ultimately conceded the yellow card and they scored in the 38th minute, then we were under pressure again just after half-time when we were down to 14, but we applied pressure then when they went down to 13.

It was big moment when Stuart Hogg scored the drop-goal, but we stayed in the fight and we knew this was going to be a 160-minute game. I think it’s a fair result.”

Munster will hope to have some of their senior players back for the return fixture, with Carbery and O’Mahony both in contention to resume training early next week.

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“Hopefully we’ll have Joey Carbery back. We hope to have him back in training on Monday. Hopefully we’ll get some good news on Peter O’Mahony.

“We had quite a bit of sickness in the week, but it was literally just the next man in. Simon Zebo, we gave him to this morning. He didn’t actually travel across. We were going to get him on a flight this morning but he couldn’t recover.

“And then this morning Diarmuid Barron went down as well. We had a few guys down during the week, but no excuses. Very proud of the guys that stood up.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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