'The performance wasn’t good enough' - Van Graan rues another deflating defeat in Dublin

The Munster head coach admitted his team didn’t deserve to secure a home URC quarter-final.

Munster's Alex Kendellen.
Munster's Alex Kendellen.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

TIME WILL TELL just how costly Saturday night’s defeat to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium proves to be for Munster, but for now, it’s hard to find any positives from a desperately disappointing outing for Johann van Graan’s team.

Needing to win, needing to perform, they left Dublin with a 35-25 defeat to a Leinster side packed with players that usually wouldn’t see much action at this time of year. Leo Cullen’s team had nothing tangible to play for in terms of their United Rugby Championship position so the frontliners all watched on from high up in the stands, their minds focused on next weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup final date with La Rochelle.

Munster on the other hand had plenty of big hitters in tow. Despite a few notable injury absentees, they still started with 11 of the team that lined out against Toulouse and brought the reigning Top 14 and Champions Cup holders to extra time and penalties earlier this month.

A Munster win of any description would have secured a home quarter-final. A bonus point win would throw in a home semi-final to boot.

In the end, the 10 point gap between the two provinces was a hugely deflating outcome.

Oddly, a closer scoreline could have laid out a more challenging path through the playoffs. Two losing bonus points would have seen the Bulls come to Thomond Park in the quarter-finals, but losing with one losing bonus point would have teed up a daunting, draining journey to play the same opposition in South Africa. 

A more manageable spin up to Belfast is still no easy task. The winners of that Ulster v Munster tie on the first weekend in June will then hit the road to take on either the Stormers or Edinburgh in the semi-finals. The final will be played at the home venue of the highest-ranked team in the decider.

“That is disappointing (not to be playing at Thomond), ” Van Graan said.

“It’s a place that we love to play at and it’s a place where we’ve been very good at this season and yes, it is disappointing not to go back there.

paddy-patterson-is-tackled-by-scott-penny Munster's Paddy Patterson is tackled by Scott Penny of Leinster. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

“Look, we handle each game as the previous one. We came here to win and we weren’t clinical enough (against Leinster). We weren’t knocked out of the competition. We didn’t put on the performance to deserve to get a home quarter-final and we’ve got to travel to Belfast now.

“I don’t think I need to give you a specific message to the supporters. Our supporters are fantastic and they’ll always support us wherever we play. Everybody would have loved to play at Thomond Park, including the whole squad that travelled to Dublin today and they’ve got an away quarter-final now.”

After an encouraging win against Exeter in the Champions Cup round of 16 and that thrilling, heartbreaking defeat to Toulouse, this was a major backwards step in terms of performance.

While Munster looked sharp at times, particularly with some of their attacking play in the first half, they faded out badly in the second period as Leinster pulled clear, the visitors’ execution repeatedly letting them down as their error count rose.

“Certainly the performance wasn’t good enough,” Van Graan continued.

I think the frustrating thing for us is the fact that we created a lot and didn’t finish it. The penalty try, yellow card, the try straight from that kick-off, that hurt us tonight.

“We’ve hopefully got a few guys coming back (for the play-offs). We had quite a few guys unavailable but in saying that we came here to win with the 23 selected and we’ll do our review like every single week and we’ve got to make sure we learn out of it.

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“What I would say is when you fall 10 points behind against Leinster they don’t let you back in and they didn’t give us an option of that tonight.”

Munster will hope to welcome back some key men ahead of the Ulster fixture, with Peter O’Mahony, Simon Zebo, Tadhg Beirne and Damian de Allende all unavailable at the weekend. 

Hopefully three of the four. I guess the most unlikely is Tadhg. We’ll take our time and we won’t put a time onto it. And then Craig Casey (illness) and Stephen Archer hopefully we’ll have them back as well and Gavin Coombes, Jack O’Sullivan and Chris Cloete, hopefully they will have had two more weeks.

“So yes, we’ve got significant numbers coming back but we’ll take our time on that.”

There are also fresh injury concerns to add into the mix, with Jack Daly forced off following a big hit from Jamie Osborne and Andrew Conway leaving the action with a leg injury.

“To be fair Jack was on crutches there and so we’ll have some news soon. I haven’t spoken to Andrew (post-game) and in that last 15 minutes I think we had three HIAs. We had Niall Scannell come back on and we had Diarmuid Barron on the flank so that’s a concern with those few knocks. So we’ll take our time and report back on Tuesday.”

Deflating, disheartening, and nowhere near good enough. After some memorable outings in recent weeks for Munster fans, this was one they’ll look to quickly forget. 

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About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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