Munster coach hails strength of his squad after battling display away to Exeter

Reds were without a host of key players due to injuries and illness
Munster coach hails strength of his squad after battling display away to Exeter

Munster's Niall Scannell in action against Exeter. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

MUNSTER head coach Johann van Graan looked an extremely relieved coach as he spoke in the aftermath of Munster’s 13-8 defeat to the Exeter Chiefs in the first leg of their Heineken Champions Cup last-16 tie on Saturday afternoon.

It was a game that Munster almost stole at the end, but ultimately a five-point defeat has to be viewed as a positive result given how the first hour of the game went when Exeter Chiefs effectively enjoyed almost complete dominance. 

Indeed, if Exeter had led by 20-odd points at that juncture it would not have been completely unsurprising. To be only 10-0 down at halftime actually seemed a positive at the time, given Exeter’s control. 

Munster were then very close to stealing a victory when they capitalised on two Exeter yellow cards in the second half, which just shows what a topsy turvy tie this was.

Van Graan summed it up by stating that: “It was a tremendous game of rugby. I thought we lost the breakdown battle in the first 40, but we got stuck into the second 40. Both teams had opportunities to win it there at the end. I think it’s a fair result.” 

Munster were down a huge amount of players due to both injury and due to the stomach bug that is currently racing through the Munster squad, but in Munster’s head coach’s opinion that was not something they dwelt on.

“Yeah, we’re in 1 to 30, next guy up. 

It’s a squad effort. To come here in a big game was massive for us. 

Like I said before the game this is a 160-minute game and we’re at the halfway stage now.” 

Exeter's Jonny Gray competes in the air at the lineout with Thomas Ahern of Munster. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady
Exeter's Jonny Gray competes in the air at the lineout with Thomas Ahern of Munster. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

A five-point deficit in front of a boisterous Thomond Park crowd seems an extremely manageable target for Munster next week, although it would, of course, help if Munster were to get a number of their walking wounded back.

“We’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully, we’ll get a few more back. Obviously, we lost a few guys to sickness. We had a few guys who literally made the game because of sickness - with that stomach bug that we had – but hopefully, we’ll get some players back next week, but all credit to the guys that played today.” 

Exeter looked destined to score on a couple of occasions, with brilliant try-saving tackles from Conor Murray, in the first half, and Keith Earls, late on in the second, keeping the score to within manageable proportions for the second leg in Thomond Park next Saturday at Thomond Park.

When asked about how important Munster’s tryline defence keeping out the much-heralded Exeter forward pack, van Graan replied: “Massive. There were a few moments there. 

"In the corner where they knocked on the ball. Craig Casey there, on-field it was not a try and they couldn’t see it, so big swings in this game and all to play for next week in Thomond Park.”

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