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'We're a club that doesn’t know how to give up' - Van Graan takes the two points

Munster now face into back-to-back ties with Saracens in Europe.

WHILE MUNSTER MANAGED to salvage a draw and very nearly stole a win at the death, there were moments last night that must have filled Johann van Graan with dread.

Racing 92, inspired by the mercurial Finn Russell, tore Munster apart in flashes of brilliance for three tries at Thomond Park and very nearly manufactured a few more, but the southern province clung on like few other teams do.

tadhg-beirne-dejected Munster came up short in their bid for a home win. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Peter O’Mahony admitted afterwards that a 21-21 draw had “probably flattered” Munster and there was surely some relief for van Graan as his side shared the spoils to ensure they’re now level on points with Pool 4 leaders Racing after the two opening rounds, trailing only by a single point on points difference.

Next up in Europe, back-to-back ties with Saracens – first in Thomond Park and then in Allianz Park – will be very testing, but van Graan was happy for Munster to have taken something from last night’s thrilling contest in Thomond Park.

“It was a very tough game of rugby,” said van Graan. “Two heavyweight boxers went at each other literally until the last second of the game.

“I thought we played some really good rugby in the first half, it was a big breakdown battle. We fell behind in the second half, came back. I thought our bench made a big impact.”

Van Graan was pleased with Andrew Conway’s late try and JJ Hanrahan’s sideline conversion before an “incredible kick” from Keith Earls gave them territory for the last-minute drop-goal attempt from Hanrahan that went wide.

“If that goes over, it’s a different ball game but all credit to Racing,” continued van Graan. “I thought both teams came to play very positive rugby. It’s like last year’s draw in Round 1 [against Exeter], you could have lost it and you most certainly could have won it there right at the death. We’ll take our points and move on.”

Losing at home is never part of the plan in Europe, but van Graan did take some pride in his team rescuing the two points after falling 21-14 behind in the second half.

jj-hanrahan-reacts-to-missing-his-drop-kick-on-goal Hanrahan's drop goal slipped wide. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I think that’s what Munster is about,” said the South African. “A lot of teams in Europe would have given up at that stage and we just kept fighting. All 23 were involved. These players don’t know how to give up, we are a club that doesn’t know how to give up, even though the odds are against you, you just keep fighting.”

“You see that the players gave it their all. I thought the crowd played a massive part. You’ve just got to keep hanging in there.

“We made a few big calls in the first-half to go to the corner and it paid off with Earlsy’s try. In the big matches, like you saw out there today, it’s inches literally right through the game, and we held on and we held on, and we got some momentum and we scored that try, we got ourselves literally within one kick of winning this game.”

Unfortunately for van Graan and Munster, there was an injury cost last night in Limerick, with loosehead prop Jeremy Loughman helped off the pitch with an ankle issue.

The 24-year-old had done his best to prevent Finn Russell from making a linebreak for Juan Imhoff’s try, but he now joins fellow loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne on Munster’s injury list, which may be a concern for next month’s clashes with Sarries.

“Knowing Jeremy, like all of our players, he got up back into the defensive line. Obviously, Finn Russell is a world-class player. He spotted that and that’s just the way the game goes.

“Jeremy gave it his all and unfortunately he got past him and that’s how they got their third try. You couldn’t fault Jeremy for it, considering his ankle was gone and he still got back up. The easy choice is to stay down but he got back up. Incredibly frustrating that that led to seven points but that’s just the way rugby goes. 

johann-van-graan Van Graan was pleased to take two points. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Killer is still a way to go. It’s strange how injuries happen in certain positions. That’s just the way that rugby goes. It’s backing our squad and whoever will be the next man up. I don’t want to start speculating as to how serious it is but the fact that we had to carry him off the field seems like it is pretty serious.

“We’ll take our time and see on Monday what we’ve got. Unfortunately, Killer is still a few weeks away so we just have to see where we’re at and regroup again for Edinburgh.”

Saracens loom large but next weekend’s clash with Edinburgh in the Pro14 in Cork is foremost in van Graan’s mind for now.

“Obviously the double-header against Saracens is the next step in terms of Europe, but we’ve got Edinburgh next up.

“What we’ve learned in this competition is you take the points on offer. We got ourselves in a winning position. Unfortunately, it didn’t go over. That’s just rugby.”

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Murray Kinsella

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