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‘We Need To Win Those Big Moments’ – Van Graan

‘We Need To Win Those Big Moments’ – Van Graan

Cutting down the penalties and putting away more of their scoring opportunities are two key areas of focus for Munster ahead of their Champions Cup final round date with Castres Olympique.

The Munstermen close out the pool stages by hosting the French side at Thomond Park on Sunday (kick-off 1pm), knowing that a swift return to winning ways – coupled with a bonus point – could secure a home quarter-final for them.

It would be a very satisfying finish to a Pool 4 campaign that began with a draw in Castres and included the November arrival of new head coach Johann van Graan, with defence coach JP Ferreira following him just before Christmas.

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A frustrating spate of soft penalties contributed to Munster’s downfall in a 34-30 defeat to Racing 92 – they conceded eight penalties by half-time and two crucial ones in the final few minutes – so discipline is top of van Graan’s list of improvements.

“There were some bad pictures,” admitted the South African. “I’d like to sit here and say we conceded zero penalties over the weekend. There were one or two side-entry on our ball and on opposition ball. We accept if we get one wrong and we get hit for it by the referee, we accept that. We have got to be better.”

Van Graan is happy that Munster’s attack is coming together nicely, albeit that they left chances behind them at the U Arena. On the plus side, Chris Farrell scored a try and was prominent in the build-up to the province’s other two seven-pointers against Racing, including a terrific individual effort by the in-form Keith Earls.

“If you look at Earlsy’s try, he actually came off of his wing. He was in midfield, it was actually forwards on his inside that created space for him. To me, it’s all about taking the right opportunities and making the right decisions. You just had to look at Conor Murray’s inside lines that he ran – rugby is inter-linked, you can’t only focus on backs and only on forwards.

“We spoke about it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with ability. Sometimes you have to give the opposition (Racing) credit as well. With two penalties that went into the post…we created opportunities. We came back from 10-0 and 18-7 away from home and (turned) that into leads.

“It’s just a bit of decision-making and we need to improve as a group. We are seeing it in a very positive light. We need to win this weekend to stay alive in this competition. The big thing is, like all European games over the weekend, there will be big moments and we need to win those big moments.

“I thought we, as a team, could have handled those last few moments better. We will be in that position somewhere in the future time. This year we want to build as a squad in those decisions that we make.”

Meanwhile, Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, who went off with ankle injury, continues to work with the Munster medical staff. He said: “I’ve a couple of things to come through. I’ll see how the week goes.” Van Graan said that they will ‘see in two days’ time if Pete’s able to train’.

Ahead of the Castres game, Mike Sherry and Conor Oliver have both been added to Munster’s extended Champions Cup squad in place of Liam O’Connor and Mark Flanagan. Ronan O’Mahony suffered no ill-effects on his return from long-term injury for Munster ‘A’ in last Friday’s impressive win away to Nottingham in the British & Irish Cup.

Gerbrandt Grobler, who was injured in the pre-season game against Worcester Warriors back in August, also made a successful return for Munster ‘A’. Calvin Nash is also back to full fitness after starting for Peter Malone’s young side in Nottingham.

Dave O’Callaghan and Dan Goggin are both back in full training following their long-term injuries, while Niall Scannell (ribs) continues to be treated by the medical team, and Tommy O’Donnell is still undergoing rehab for an AC joint injury.

Buy Munster v Castres tickets online, from the Munster Rugby Ticket Offices at Thomond Park and Irish Independent Park (Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm), or by calling 061 421103.