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'It can’t be the peak' - Munster must rebound for next trip to Dublin

Johann van Graan’s side have a huge URC clash against Leinster in two weekends’ time.

A dejected Simon Zebo after Munster's penalty shoot-out defeat.
A dejected Simon Zebo after Munster's penalty shoot-out defeat.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

SATURDAY AFTERNOON IN Dublin was a timely reminder that Munster still have something very, very special.

Those who were lucky enough to be in the Aviva Stadium won’t forget the experience. The sheer racket created by just over 40,000 people was something to behold.

Munster’s pre-match half lap. Stand Up and Fight just before kick-off. Umpteen renditions of The Fields of Athenry. Munster, Munster, Munster, nearly non-stop.

And most spine-tingling of all – the guttural, almost cathartic sing-along to The Cranberries’ classic ‘Zombie’ at half-time of extra time. How every one of the supporters needed that release amidst the simmering tension of the events on the pitch.

Most of the all-time great Munster days have involved stirring wins, of course, but Saturday was still a special one as they were edged out by Toulouse in heartbreaking fashion.

Munster did a superb job of making the game affordable and accessible for supporters after it was shifted from Thomond Park to the Aviva, with those efforts very much reciprocated by the fans delivering a sublime atmosphere for a sensational game.

To miss out on a semi-final place after all the twists, turns, drop-goal attempts, and penalty shots will hurt for many more days to come.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, this will be one that we need to take our time with,” said Munster boss Johann van Graan afterwards as he fought back tears.

johann-van-graan-with-his-family-after-the-game Van Graan with his family after the game. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“To lose a game in this fashion and when, from a group point of view, you’ve put your heart and soul into it… we’ll take our time.”

Munster’s players have a few days off now but will regather later this week with plenty still to play for this season.

They’re already assured of a quarter-final place in the United Rugby Championship but now aim to secure a home tie and a possible home semi-final by finishing second behind Leinster in the league table.

The tricky part is that Munster are away to Leinster in the Aviva Stadium in their final regular-season fixture in two weekends’ time. With the Sharks, Stormers, Ulster, and the Bulls all still in contention for second position just behind Munster, it will be another huge fixture for van Graan’s men.

So when they get back to work later this week, Munster are determined to keep lots of the good stuff from last Saturday.

“It can’t be the peak,” said hooker Niall Scannell of their performance against Toulouse.

“When we turn the page, that’s probably the way we are going to look at it. We’ll look at it as a huge stepping stone. There’s a lot of guys that maybe haven’t played at that level before that are there now.”

Outstanding 21-year-old Alex Kendellen is among that group, as are the likes of Thomas Ahern, Jack Daly, and Ben Healy – who is still only 22 and will be better and more resilient in the long-term after his near-misses off the tee and with his drop-goal efforts.

Whatever about future ambitions in Europe, Munster are still intent on finishing the van Graan era with success in the URC.

alex-kendellen-on-his-way-to-scoring-a-try Alex Kendellen was excellent for Munster. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

“We’ve huge ambitions in the URC and when you’re at a club like Munster, you can’t shy away from that,” said Scannell.

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“There’s huge expectation to bring home trophies and unfortunately that’s the end of the road for one of them but we still have the URC and we’ll look at that [Toulouse game] as a bit of a launchpad hopefully to put in bigger and better performances because that’s the game we’re in – high performance. We want to keep getting better.”

While Leinster head into battle again this weekend in their Champions Cup semi-final against Toulouse in Dublin, Munster will at least have a chance to physically recuperate.

They will hope that captain Peter O’Mahony is back swiftly after being forced off injured in the 64th minute against Toulouse.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to coach a few warriors in my life and I’d say Pete is right up there in terms of being a warrior,” said van Graan.

“What he means to the team, he’s a man of action and he continued after the Exeter game into this game and he was phenomenal.

“Sometimes from a warrior perspective, your mind is still whirring but your body gives way and his body gave way and I think from a respect point of view, he’s one of those players I’ll look back upon…”

Again, van Graan had to pause to fight back the tears here.

“… and say he was a warrior.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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