Dan Sheridan/INPHO Johann van Graan in tears after Munster's defeat.
Red Army

'If ever there's a day to sum up Munster rugby, it's today' - Van Graan

The Munster head coach showed lots of emotion after an enthralling, agonising game in Dublin.

ASKED TO SUM up his feelings after a most extraordinary game of rugby, Munster head coach Johann van Graan took a long, deep breath and fought back the tears.

A long, emotional pause ensued as his mind scanned over the many moments of this remarkable day.

Narrowly wide drop-goal attempts, long-range penalty efforts, some scintillating tries, all in front of a raucous Red Army. It was absorbing, agonising stuff as Munster were edged out by Toulouse in their Champions Cup quarter-final.

Van Graan had already shed a few tears out on the pitch after Munster lost 4-2 to Toulouse in a penalty shoot-out following 100 minutes of rugby that couldn’t separate the teams, a 24-24 scoreline and three tries apiece sending us to a place-kicking competition for just the second time in Champions Cup history.

The atmosphere had been utterly rocking from well before kick-off. When Munster went on their traditional half-lap following their warm-up, the Aviva Stadium felt like it was actually rocking. The volume went to another level for a rousing pre-match rendition of Stand Up and Fight.

Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, and Toulouse sauntered out onto the pitch just before Munster re-entered the arena to another ear-splitting reception. It genuinely felt like the good ol’ days of Munster rugby and it seemed destined to be another great day for the province.

With 20 minutes of the game remaining, Munster led 24-14 and appeared to be heading for a Champions Cup semi-final, but there were many, many twists and turns still ahead from there.

It all ended in agony as Conor Murray and twice Ben Healy saw their shoot-out efforts slip wide, leaving the Red Army in stunned silence.

diarmuid-barron-peter-omahony-and-johann-van-graan Dan Sheridan / INPHO Van Graan alongside Peter O'Mahony during the shoot-out. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Firstly, I’m incredibly proud,” said van Graan when he steadied himself at the post-match press conference.

“Today was what Munster rugby is about. To lose it like that, that’s unfortunately sport, that’s the way the rules are. Somebody’s got to kick it over and somebody’s got to miss.

“If ever there’s a day to sum up Munster rugby, it’s today. A community of 40,000 people travelling. It was certainly one of the best rugby games I’ve been involved with.

“I said to my wife there from a feeling point of view, this was like the World Cup semi-final in 2015 that I was involved with that we lost 20-18 against the All Blacks. That feeling that we gave it all we’ve got, the players gave it all they’ve got. Management, staff, the people of Munster gave it all they’ve got.

“We’ve got to know that this is a game. Everybody associated with Munster rugby will be incredibly proud of the 23 guys that stood up and fought today.

“We left the hotel saying, ‘To the brave and faithful, nothing is impossible’ and I think the way that our captain Peter O’Mahony played, literally when his body couldn’t anymore, then Jack Daly coming on to make his European debut in that cauldron – the incredible thing about rugby is it gives you opportunity to experience things like what happened today.

“The tough thing is, great game of rugby, could have won it in the final play of the game, had one or two opportunities, but it’s gone now. The sun will come up tomorrow morning.”

The Munster fans were truly outstanding in the Dublin sun, bringing an atmosphere that the Aviva Stadium simply hadn’t heard for the past six months since Ireland beat New Zealand here.

jack-daly-dejected Dan Sheridan / INPHO The finale was agonising. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Asked about the Red Army, van Graan’s emotion was obvious again.

“For Munster, that’s by far the most incredible scenes I’ve seen, in terms of people giving it their all for this club. The last two weeks was so special, it’s right up there.”

Murray, Healy, and Carbery were the men to put their hands up for the place-kicking competition and van Graan said he had spoken to them after the high drama of the shoot-out.  

“They’re obviously gutted, but as I said a few weeks ago we’re all in and we win together and lose together.

“All you can ask is that guys give it their all and that’s what they’ve done to put us in a position to go against the European champions in a cauldron like that. Nobody on the pitch, not the referee, not Toulouse, has been in a situation like that.

“We actually spoke in the week about the possibilities of extra time, the number of tries, and we were prepared for it. It comes down to literally a kick.

“A horrible way for the game to end from a Munster perspective, but Toulouse are one of the true great European clubs, all credit to them. Munster and Toulouse are two incredibly special clubs to be involved with.”

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