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Munster set sights on Pro14 trophy as barren run in Europe continues

‘We have come a long way as a team and as a squad,’ said Peter O’Mahony.

Murray Kinsella reports from Coventry

MAKE THAT SEVEN Heineken Champions Cup semi-final defeats in a row.

This one hurt as much as the six that came before, although it did at least come with the acceptance that Munster were beaten by a better team

Johann van Graan dejected while Peter O'Mahony is interviewed after the game A disappointed Johann van Graan stands by while Peter O'Mahony is interviewed. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Plain and simple. Munster weren’t as good a team as Saracens, especially without their two most creative players in Joey Carbery and Keith Earls – both missing yesterday due to unfortunately-timed injuries.

Munster had no complaints after their 32-16 defeat and they will need to swiftly turn their attention to matters in the Guinness Pro14 as they look to cap off what has been a positive season overall with a trophy.

The summer will allow van Graan and his coaching staff – still to be confirmed – to delve deeper into what they need to do to close in on the province’s first European title since 2008.

As it transpired, Munster’s losing margin of 16 points was the same as when they lost to Saracens in the semi-finals two years ago, but the province are convinced they have improved since then.

“We’ve come a long way,” said captain Peter O’Mahony. “You know, we have come a long way as a team and as a squad. I’m not going to argue with a 16-point difference.

“Would I say that they’re 20 or 25 points better than us? No, but I’m not going to argue with 16 points.

“They outplayed us today. You do get to a stage, nine points down, even after scoring a try, you’re chasing the game and you’re still probably playing out of your gameplan a little bit.”

Saracens love nothing more than opposing teams attempting to chase games, rolling the dice and usually making mistakes against their suffocating pressure game.

Dan Goggin dejected Munster were left dejected in Coventry. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Mark McCall’s side impressively closed Munster out after Darren Sweetnam’s try had given them some hope.

There can be no doubting Munster’s effort and work-rate in defeat, with openside flanker Jack O’Donoghue – who craftily hooked the ball out of a Saracens scrum for Sweetnam’s score – saying they will take pride from how they “dug in” for the entire 80 minutes.

While the barren run without a trophy in Europe will continue until next year at least, Munster do have an opportunity to secure silverware before the end of this campaign.

They take on Connacht next weekend in the final round of the Pro14 regular season, hoping that a win will give them a home semi-final.

However, van Graan’s men would also need Edinburgh to beat Glasgow away for that to happen, meaning they may yet have a home quarter-final to negotiate.

Having last won the Pro14 in 2011 – when it was the Magners League – van Graan will be pushing his players to put this European defeat behind them swiftly.

“It’s very important,” said van Graan when asked about the opportunity ahead in the Pro14. “We said from the beginning of the pre-season that we were going to take it week to week. We came to the semi-final of Europe and got caught short on the day.

“We’ve got a game against Connacht who qualified for the quarter-final. There is still an opportunity for the semi-final, that’s not in our hands. Then once we are in the quarter-finals or semi-finals, we take the game as it comes and learn from it.

Arno Botha and CJ Stander dejected Munster can still win a trophy this season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Not a lot of teams in the world put pressure on like Saracens do. Sometimes you’ve just got to say well done to the opposition.

“They did fantastically in 2016, 2017 [winning the compteition] and lost in the quarter-final last year. This year they are unbeaten. They put 50 points on Glasgow, who are three points ahead of us in the Pro14.”

Van Graan will hope that the toll from yesterday’s defeat doesn’t hold Munster back in the coming weeks.

Loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne limped off in the second half and will be assessed further in the coming days.

“It looks like an ankle injury,” said van Graan. “I haven’t spoken to the medical team yet. Obviously, it’s still very early but it’s a bit of a worry from our side. We’ll get some more info on Monday.”

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Murray Kinsella

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