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'We'll take a win against Saracens any day of the week' - Munster's Van Graan

The Munster boss had no arguments with Arno Botha’s late red card.

MUNSTER HEAD COACH Johann van Graan said his side will take a win over Saracens “any day of the week” but admitted that the English side’s losing bonus point at Thomond Park could be crucial in deciding Pool 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup.

Van Graan’s side secured a 10-3 win over Saracens in heavy rain in Limerick, with captain Peter O’Mahony’s first-half try proving to be vital.

Saracens rested most of their front-line stars for the visit to Thomond Park but managed to secure a losing bonus point on the road to keep their hopes of earning a European quarter-final alive.

billy-holland-and-peter-omahony Munster ground out a 10-3 win in the rain in Limerick. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Munster had to dig in during a torrid second half which was played out in heavy rain, with van Graan insisting he was pleased with the outcome, while conceding that Sarries’ single match point might prove to be crucial.

“It could be,” said van Graan. “We defended quite well, so small margins. We’ll take a win against Saracens any day of the week. Right from the start, we knew this pool was going to be tight. 

“From our point of view, we are still unbeaten in this group. An away win with a bonus-point [against Ospreys], a home win against Saracens, and a draw against Racing.

“So it’s going to go right down to the wire and the only thing we can control is next week against Saracens in London.”

Next weekend’s visit to Saracens will be a huge challenge for van Graan’s men, with Mark McCall promising to bring back his big names for the round four tie.

“We can’t control whatever selection any team that ever plays against us do,” said van Graan. “They’ve got to make their calls. If certain teams rest players then certain people just assume that it’s their B team.

“They’re the European and the Premiership champions and you’ve got to look at the players who played in that team tonight. What people don’t see is our guys fighting for every single inch.

peter-omahony-celebrates-his-try-with-team-mates Munster celebrate Peter O'Mahony's first-half try. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“If you look at some of the injuries that we’ve got in our positions, we are thin in certain areas but we just got to go out there and played. All respect to the 23 guys that went out there to battle tonight, I thought they battled for what was 81 or 82 minutes against the European champions at home and we got a win against Saracens at home.”

There was late drama in the victory as replacement back row Arno Botha was red-carded by Romain Poite for leading with the elbow as he carried, with van Graan accepting it was a fair sending off.

“Initial thoughts, he definitely didn’t have any choice,” said van Graan. “Look, it happened so quickly, it was literally instinct. It was actually such a great carry but, unfortunately, if he’s made contact with the head, the referee doesn’t have any decision to award a red card.”

Munster will hope there is no further punishment for Botha in any disciplinary hearing that follows.

“I don’t want to get into that, there’s people employed to do that job,” said van Graan. “All I can do is focus on the things that we can control. It happens so quickly. There were other instances in this game where there were cleanouts and the referee deemed that fair, you’ve just got to respect the decisions and move on.

“It’s a world-class referee and you’ve got to stick with his decisions. I spoke to him after in the tunnel and it’s just the way sport goes. That’s why he’s one of the best in the world.”

Winning away against a Saracens team close to full-strength would be a huge achievement for this Munster team next weekend but it appears they will need something big from either the London trip or their visit to Paris to face Racing 92 in round five.

johann-van-graan Next weekend is huge for van Graan and Munster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

This 10-3 win leaves Munster a single match point behind Pool 4 leaders Racing, with Saracens five points adrift of the Irish province, and van Graan is content for now after Jack O’Donoghue’s late lineout steal sealed a home success.

“I’m very glad about the win, they were very tough conditions in the last 50 minutes of the game,” said van Graan.

“They won the toss and elected to play against the wind. Both teams did their homework about the weather, we knew the weather was coming in and we created quite a few chances in that first half.

“Big call there on the knock-on [by Stephen Archer] on their goal-line… I’ll just leave it at that.

“In the second half, they just played the conditions pretty well and pinned us in their half. The longer the game went on, in the last 20 minutes you didn’t actually want the ball because it was so difficult to handle.

“Then I thought our lineout contesting won it there at the end, so we’re very glad about the win.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Thomond Park

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