good vibrations

Van Graan backs 'refreshed' Murray as Munster set out to enjoy Edinburgh clash

After a tough Six Nations run for the internationals, Van Graan is accentuating the exciting side of the quarter-final ahead.

THE EUROPEAN WEEKEND on the horizon is very welcome indeed, coming like the dawn after a dark hour and the pathetic fallacy of the torrential downpour in Cardiff.

There is always comfort to be found for players when returning to their province after a difficult international run. The scrutiny is reduced, the opportunities to impress are greater and the familial feel of home just can’t be replicated.

For Munster head coach Johann van Graan, the primary focus this week is reintegrating his international stars back into his squad and its playing patterns. And his message during that process is a positive one.

The hard slog with Ireland is in the rear view mirror. It’s imperative now that players enjoy the ride this weekend.

Joey Carbery with Johann van Graan Van Graan with Joey Carbery at training yesterday. The out-half is set to return from a hamstring injury. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“The trap we’re not going to fall into this week is to look at the opposition too much,” said Van Graan, admittedly after touching on Edinburgh’s strengths.

“We’ll give them the respect they deserve, and that’s a lot, but the most important thing is we’ve got three training sessions as a group. (We’ll) enjoy the week together and, you know, we’ve got a specific DNA at Munster and we’re going to back that on Saturday afternoon to go into the cauldron of Murrayfield.

Go and enjoy the week, it’s games like this you have to embrace and have to enjoy. I certainly enjoy games like this, the players do as well. (It’s) brilliant to go to Edinburgh at the weekend.”

The Munster DNA certainly won’t detract from a happy, confident and comfortable mood about the province. They have made their reputation on weeks like this and hold the record for both home (9) and away (4) wins in the last eight, while Edinburgh are making their third appearance.

Still, the Six Nations form can’t be ignored and Van Graan was asked what measures he took to lift morale of his internationals after a difficult campaign.

“I had discussions with all the lads before they came in, speaking about what happened, get a plan in place for each individual, get out on the pitch this afternoon and train.”

The feelgood factor Munster are bringing about is, of course, not a replacement for awareness and preparation for a formidable Edinburgh outfit. Richard Cockerill’s side have shown themselves to be a robust opponent, more than worthy of their home advantage this weekend as they topped their pool ahead of Toulon and Montpellier. And just in case anyone required a reminder of their threat, they warmed up for this weekend by sending their pack powering through Leinster.

“They’re a very well-coached team. The well-coached teams all across the world do very simple things and do them very well,” says Van Graan.

“Their scrummaging game is very good and what they do in broken field has been pretty special. Once they get in the 22 it’s very difficult to get the ball away from them.”

Even when travelling away from home to a packed Murrayfield, the quarter-final inevitably sparks memories of Munster’s battle with Toulon at Thomond Park at the same stage last season.

“I still see that moment in front of my eyes,” says the head coach of the dramatic winning try from Andrew Conway in that fixture. And he uses the moment to illustrate how tight contests are so often swung by big moments from quality players.

Munster’s other try that day was just as crucial, though, provided by the brain of Conor Murray as he dived at a ball brought loose beyond the Toulon try-line.

Murray’s nous has not been diminished over the past year, but his form has been a level below what he has made all onlookers accustomed to. However, Van Graan feels his influential number 9 will benefit from a week off to decompress after the Six Nations.

“I met up with Conor a week ago and went through his game,” said Van Graan.

“He’ll be the first to say he wants to improve every single week. He took a mental break and was really refreshed when he walked in here this morning and he’s really looking forward to the challenge.

Conor Murray Conor Murray in training at UL Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

He adds: “we’ve got a good kicking game and he’s a central figure in that… it’s (about) getting the plans in place, getting individual plans in place and then going out onto the pitch and train it.

“I’ve said it before he’s a world-class player and he’ll come around and I am sure play very well on Saturday afternoon.”

“I don’t read all the criticism and all the positives. All I know is that Conor is a world-class player. He wants to be the best in the business and he’ll work every single day as much as he can to be at his best on Saturday afternoon.”

In addition to the prospect of a refreshed Murray, Munster are set to be boosted by the return of Joey Carbery from hamstring injury. The Athy man was last seen helping Ireland to victory over Scotland with a scintillating break in the middle of Murrayfield.

Van Graan watched that break in the flesh, taking a front row seat as he walked among Joe Schmidt’s camp for what appeared to be a recce for this weekend’s crucial occasion.

“It seems like a long time ago now. Obviously, I was there with the Springboks before and we played Test matches there.

“It’s a fantastic venue and it was a very good experience and nice to watch the game as a supporter, and just look at your surroundings, and the way the bus arrives, and the way they do things.

“So I really enjoyed that week.”

A similar outcome this Saturday would be a hell of a return from back-to-back visits to Edinburgh.

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