Van Graan: ‘We didn’t start the game well enough’

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By Simon Lewis

Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland





Johann van Graan was left to rue Munster’s failure to break down Leinster’s defences as Leo Cullen’s defending champions continued their 100 per cent start to the Guinness PRO14 campaign with a hard-fought victory at Thomond Park.

Just one try, from Leinster prop Ed Byrne in the opening quarter, was all that got over the white line in Limerick in a game played out in windy conditions.

Leinster made the most of the strong breeze when it was in their favour during the first half, Ross Byrne sending the visitors into a 13-3 half-time lead with a conversion and two penalties as Munster fly-half JJ Hanrahan added just one penalty to his first-half three-pointer in a second half which saw his side struggle to fail to convert at least half a dozen try-scoring opportunities.

“Obviously very disappointed to lose at home,” Munster head coach van Graan said on Saturday night.

“It was an incredibly tough match. I thought we didn’t start the game well enough.

“They put us under pressure, we conceded penalties, they kicked us into the corner. Ultimately, their try was the difference in the game.

“I thought we reassessed quite well at half-time and adapted. We had multiple opportunities in the 22.

“All credit to Leinster, they kept us out. In the last 10 minutes, we just literally couldn’t get over the try line.”

There was no shortage of intensity from these rival provinces in front of a sell-out 36,367 crowd but the absence of the majority of frontline stars rested under IRFU player welfare protocols, hurt Munster far more than a Leinster squad with so much strength in depth.

The home side’s sloppiness inside the visitors’ 22 cost them dearly with a string of try-scoring opportunities scuppered by mistakes that restricted them to just three second-half points when they had a strong breeze at their backs.

Leinster used that Limerick wind to greater effect in the opening period, opening the scoring early with a try from close-in courtesy of loosehead prop Ed Byrne and eight points, the conversion and two penalties, from the boot of fly-half Ross Byrne.

Leinster never reached top gear but did not need to hit the heights as Munster created chances but did not execute, their only reward coming from the boot of Hanrahan either side of the interval.

Not even the arrival of Joey Carbery off the bench on 56 minutes for his first provincial appearance of the season having returned from the World Cup with an ankle injury, could lift the home side.

Yet though they were in with a shout for the entire second half, Munster could not translate their possession into points.

The final blow came with the clock against them and Munster trailing 13-6.

The home side won a penalty inside the Leinster 22 after a sustained period of pressure and kicked for the corner, the five-metre lineout providing an ideal platform to rescue a draw.

Yet again, the chance was wasted, the set-piece lost, Ross Molony stealing at the front for a throw meant for opposing lock replacement Darren O’Shea.

Leinster kept the ball long enough to see out the 80 minutes and leave Munster with only a losing bonus point as Leo Cullen’s side made it nine wins out of nine in the league this season.

The Leinster boss hailed his side’s doggedness in keeping Munster out, particularly during the second-half onslaught.

“The defensive aspect in the second half. We’re 6-13 after 45 minutes, so to hold Munster out with the wind at their backs for all that second half was pleasing,” Cullen said.

“The fight in at the end was good. There are lots of parts of the game that could be better, it’s a difficult place to come.

“All the players really, that fight for each other at the end was the most pleasing. Last week (in beating Ulster 54-42), the last 20 minutes of the game we lost 28-7 – four tries to one – it really felt like we had lost that game even though it was a bonus-point win.

“It’s the manner of the game and overall scheme of the performance that’s most important to us.

“We know parts of that performance weren’t perfect today, but at least there was a better dig-in for each other.”

MUNSTER: M Haley; D Goggin (C Nash, 76), S Arnold, R Scannell, S Daly; JJ Hanrahan (J Carbery, 56), N McCarthy (N Cronin, 65); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman, 51), K O’Byrne (D Barron, 74), S Archer (K Knox, 54); F Wycherley, B Holland – captain; T O’Donnell (D O’Shea, 74), C Cloete (J O’Sullivan, 54), J O’Donoghue.

LEINSTER: H Keenan; A Byrne, J O’Brien, C O’Brien (C Frawley, 58), J Lowe; R Byrne (T O’Brien, 79), R Osborne (H O’Sullivan, 65); E Byrne (P Dooley, 57), J Tracy (S Cronin, 57), A Porter (J Aungier, 74); D Toner, S Fardy – captain; J Murphy (R Molony, 65), W Connors (S Penny, 76), C Doris.

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

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