Van Graan praises Munster’s resilience against Stormers
For Gavin Coombes, another try, his third try in two outings this season to increase a somewhat ludicrous 15 tries in 22 games last season, and another man of the match gong.
Coombes came alive vibrantly in the second half, showcasing his all-around game, whether it was the 23-year-old’s strength in tight quarters and in the jackal, eye for the try line and handling and the appreciation of those of Anthony Foley. around him.
Yet in the first half, when things were toughest for Munster, no one got into it more than fellow rowers Jack O’Donoghue or Peter O’Mahony. The Munster captain was imperious in the air and invented big plays, winning turnover penalties and most notably defending the Munster line with enough alertness to deny Manie Libbok a try which would have seen the Stormers take a advancing into the 1920s.
O’Mahony, who looks as fit, spry and hungry as ever, has continued to have a profound influence on the game in both his performance and his leadership – perhaps in a way that is almost taken for granted.
Meanwhile, O’Donoghue has seemingly taken his game to another level this season, perhaps in part because he nailed the 7 shirt after years of suffering for his versatility in the back row.
In an all-action display, he won turnovers in the lineout and jackal, made his tackles and carried hard, all while showing off his handling skills, most notably with the one-handed unload to O’Mahony that he moved on to Shane. Daly finally established the home team and the crowd.
Considering he also plundered two of Munster’s five tries, it’s a wonder he didn’t win the man of the match award, and Johann van Graan obviously agreed.
“I told him in the locker room that I thought it was his best game for a long time. I thought he was excellent, he came in leaps and bounds, his competition was very good. I thought he was wearing well , it completes our way of playing.
“I think Pete and Coombsey played really well. He (O’Donoghue) is comfortable in 6, 7 and 8 and I thought it was one of his best games in a long time. I I felt the man of the match was pretty close to himself and Coombsey,” admitted van Graan with a wry smile.
It was the performances of O’Donoghue and O’Mahony that, more than anything, added to the belief that even as they struggled to contain the Stormers and gain a foothold in the game, Munster would eventually find a way.
That composure in difficult times has been on full display before, most notably in that comeback win at Clermont last season, which van Graan attributes in part to the stable nature of their coaching stint.
“It definitely comes from continuity. We as a group of coaches talked about it after about 30 minutes. Everyone was pretty calm. It was 15-0 at that time; we always knew we could come back. We had been here before.
Even though they were initially denied an opening score when penalized for pre-locking, correctly according to van Graan, before kicking off their comeback with O’Donoghue’s try in the final game of the halftime, it showed them the way.
“It showed us that once we got into this area, we thought we could make big inroads.
“That’s why we talked about changing our plan a bit at half time, which worked out pretty well. It gave us several entries. I would much rather 15-0 than 15-0 but that’s what makes rugby beautiful, you can’t script every game, it takes its momentum and character.
“That’s what helps when we play at home, that the public supports us, and that’s what makes Munster rugby special.”