Thomond Park was rocking last weekend. Billy Stickland/INPHO

'We would have loved to play at Thomond Park but we're going to embrace the Aviva'

Munster head coach Johann van Graan says the province is aligned over the decision.

MUNSTER HEAD COACH Johann van Graan says the province is aligned regarding the decision to book two Ed Sheeran concerts at Thomond Park next month, meaning van Graan’s team have had their home Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse moved to the Aviva Stadium.

The province’s chief operating officer, Philip Quinn, has confirmed that when the Sheeran concert dates were confirmed, Munster “were aware that they could clash with any potential home quarter-final stage in Europe” and acknowledged that the situation is now proving “frustrating for our committed and loyal support base.”

Quinn underlined that Munster’s decision was made at a time when “economic factors were central to the decision-making process” following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Thomond Park factor proved important in Munster’s home leg of the Round of 16 match-up with Exeter last weekend, but they will have to do without it in the next round with the Toulouse game confirmed for the Aviva Stadium on the weekend of 6/7/8 May.

Speaking yesterday, Munster boss van Graan acknowledged that he and his players would love to be looking forward to welcoming Toulouse to Thomond Park for their quarter-final, but he stressed his understanding of the decision.

“We love to play at Thomond Park,” said van Graan, “Saturday evening was again an incredible European experience.

“Our supporters are always there. You just have to look at two weeks ago in Exeter, the way they turned up. That was magic on Saturday in Thomond Park.

“However, we as a club are all aligned. This decision was taken two years back. We had to cut some big players from Munster Rugby because of budget constraints. We have had staff redundancies so this decision was taken at a time where not only ourselves but a lot of people across rugby in the world had to make big decisions in terms of their future.

johann-van-graan Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“So we’re going to embrace the Aviva, we’ve played there before. In terms of our supporters, they are fantastic. The ones that can be there will be there. The ones that can’t make it will be with us.

“We’ve got a fantastic support base at Munster Rugby, whether in the province, in Ireland, or all across the world.

“We certainly would have loved to have played at Thomond Park but as a club, we’re going to embrace the Aviva and the occasion of Munster versus Toulouse in a European quarter-final.”

Munster will be hoping for a huge crowd in Dublin to cheer them on against the reigning champions, who edged past Ulster on a one-point margin after two thrilling legs against Dan McFarland’s side.

Van Graan will also hope Munster can muster a performance similar to last weekend’s against Exeter when they meet Toulouse in the quarter-finals.

“I can say it was one of our better performances, an all-round performance, and I think the two clubs, Munster and Exeter, bring out the best in each other,” said van Graan.

“It was 160 minutes of rugby, they dominated the first 40 at Sandy Park, we defended extremely well in that second half, I take you back to Keith Earls’ tackle and the last play of the game where we held them up over the goal-line.

damian-de-allende-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try Munster were superb last weekend. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“And then I thought we started the home game really well, conceded the yellow card and the try, Mike Haley going to nine, we actually scored three points as soon as Conor [Murray] came back.

“We defended well and managed our way up the field to let Joey [Carbery] score that try. They started the second half really well with their try and then from minutes 60 to 80, our impacts [off the bench] made a big difference.

“We started to get the upper hand and the crowd played a massive role. That noise when Simon [Zebo] got that ball and ran and gave that offload to Doogz [Damian de Allende] on the inside, the performance was certainly one of the best over the last few years and that you need to beat a class team.

“Speaking to Rob [Baxter, Exeter's boss] afterwards, they loved the battle. They love to come to Thomond Park and experience that and yeah, we were pretty good on Saturday evening and very happy we came through that and into the quarter-final.”

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