Munster set to 'embrace' Pro14 final as they look to end 10-year trophy drought

Johann van Graan’s side secured their place with a narrow victory over Connacht last night.

Joey Carbery and Alex Wotton at Thomond Park last night.
Joey Carbery and Alex Wotton at Thomond Park last night.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IT DOESN’T TAKE a genius to point out that Munster were far from perfect last night in Thomond Park, but Johann van Graan was a justifiably happy man after the final whistle went on his side’s 20-17 win over Connacht.

Van Graan and his coaching staff had built their preparation around this game being a ‘semi-final’ and though it was only a regular-season fixture, the inter-provincial tie did have that knock-out feel to it.

Connacht knew they needed to win in Limerick to keep their slim hopes of topping Conference B alive, while Munster knew that a win would guarantee them a place in their first Pro14 final since 2017. Van Graan and co. opted to put pressure on their players to get the job done last night with two games to spare.

The heated nature of the contest made it feel a little like a semi-final too, with Munster gaining momentum in the second half after trailing at the break, a superb Mike Haley try and a big impact from their strong bench helping Munster to just about edge it.

Victory means Munster are now just one win away from ending their decade-long trophy drought. They look likely to meet Leinster in the decider in just three weeks’ time on 27 March, although Ulster are still alive in the hunt for the other final spot and will look to land a blow against Leo Cullen’s side tonight.

Munster still have regular-season games at home to Scarlets and Benetton to come in the next fortnight, while van Graan will only have his Ireland frontliners back from Six Nations camp the week of the final, but there’s excitement will build within the province’s set-up in the meantime.

“We stayed process-focused this whole week so the fact we’ve got a weekend open now, it will sink in that we’ve got a final on the 27th of March,” said van Graan last night.

“Obviously, from a club perspective that’s brilliant, our first final in a few years. It’s something that we can enjoy and embrace now.

“It’s a once-off game now. You’ve got get into a final to win something and we’re in it now, so we’ll enjoy that.”

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craig-casey-tackles-jack-carty Craig Casey and Jack Carty. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Munster’s lineout will need to be much better than it was last night, although it is a rare sight to see van Graan’s men losing so much possession at the set-piece. Connacht deserve major credit for the quality of their analysis and their forwards’ decisions in-game too, with the superb Gavin Thornbury and Ultan Dillane causing havoc.

With head coach Andy Friend watching on from home in Galway after knee surgery, the westerners did plenty right last night and led 10-7 at the break, as well as managing to keep Munster scoreless during Bundee Aki’s sin bin during the second half, but they will know it was a game they let slip away.

They may feel they were unlucky with some of the refereeing decisions but overall, it was an encouraging performance from Connacht and they now look towards finishing this Pro14 campaign on a high against Edinburgh and Scarlets in the coming weeks.

“It was very tough, we’re pretty gutted with it,” said impressive lock Thornbury last night after the defeat to Munster.

“You know coming down here it’s going to be very tough and you’re going to have to play for the 80 minutes but they’ve been grinding out results all year and in fairness, they did it again today.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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