'That's what you want your captain to do on the big days, perform like that'

Johann van Graan was full of praise for Peter O’Mahony after his superb individual display against Exeter Chiefs.

Munster captain Peter O'Mahony.
Munster captain Peter O'Mahony.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A SPECIAL DAY at Thomond Park saw Munster book their place in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals thanks to a thrilling 26-10 win over Exeter Chiefs, the result sending the province through thanks on an aggregate scoreline of 34-23 over two gripping encounters across this round of 16 match-up.

On a day when Munster needed to step up and deliver, the province responded in impressive fashion, with a number of senior players playing starring roles. Joey Carbery scored 21 of Munster’s 26 points and led the team well, while Damian de Allende had a strong performance in the Munster midfield and Jack O’Donoghue built on his superb display at Sandy Park seven days previously.

It was a good day for some of the younger generation too, flanker John Hodnett making some big plays and 22-year-old Josh Wycherley handling himself well in the Munster front row.

However none had as telling a say on the game as Munster’s inspirational captain, Peter O’Mahony.

Having missed the first leg tie in Devon through injury, O’Mahony returned to the team today and had a major influence, stealing lineout and winning a series of energy-sapping turnover penalties as Exeter looked to find a way back into the contest.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan admitted it was special performance by his captain in front of a vocal, appreciative Munster crowd. 

“Pete’s a man for the big moments and that’s why you back your captain to come though in big European games, and we targeted this one,” Van Graan said.

“We knew that we needed to stay in the fight last week, which we certainly did. Last week they were over the try-line four times and we scrambled, and that five-point deficit, we knew that we needed to claw that back.

I thought that we started the game pretty well and then came back into it, but from Pete’s point of view, that’s what you want your captain to do on the big days, perform like that.”

Van Graan also enthused about the performance of Carbery, another player who missed last weekend’s first leg through injury. Despite a swirling wind, the out-half finished with a 100% record off the tee and scored a wonderful try in the first half, collecting an O’Mahony pass and beating three defenders with some clever footwork.

Joey is a special player, and I said to him early in the week, that when I met him a few years ago I had so much belief in him. He’s such a special player, and I said to him ‘today is the day to lead us through’. He certainly responded, not only with his kicking, but the try he scored. He’s a phenomenal man, he’s been through a lot, but he’s led us to victory from a 10 perspective.

“On that note, all 23 players gave it their all, I know Ben Healy didn’t get on the pitch, but in terms of being all-in, we were 23 guys.”

The win means Munster will now host Toulouse in the quarter-finals following the French side’s win in Belfast this evening. Details for their quarter-final clash, scheduled for the weekend of May 6/7/8, are yet to be confirmed, with English singer Ed Sheeran due to perform two concerts at Thomond Park on Thursday 5 May and Friday 6 May.

johann-van-graan-celebrates-after-the-game-with-joey-carbery Joey Carbery celebrates the win with Johann van Graan. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster have at times been a frustrating watch this season, but if they can produce more performances in line with the quality on display at Thomond Park today, they can trouble any team left in this competition.

“That was a performance, two very proud clubs going at each other, a very unique experience over two legs, but the 16th man pulled us through today,” Van Graan added.

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“We as a group said that to claw back the five-point difference would be massive, and the fact that we were unbeaten in the pool stage meant we were always going to finish here at Thomond Park. We banked on the crowd and they were phenomenal today.”

Despite 5,000 seats being left empty, Thomond Park was rocking throughout a gripping encounter, and the crowd were treated to a special Munster try in the closing stages as Simon Zebo produced a sublime offload to play in De Allende for a score that sealed the deal in style.

“Zeebs is the man for a big moment. That pass to Damien was pretty special, but you need your big players to perform on big days and as I said last week, you don’t win a game in the first leg, but you could lose it.

“We stayed in the fight and today the Munster team produced when it mattered, and we’re in a European quarter-final.”  

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Ciarán Kennedy

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