MUNSTER head coach Johann Van Graan is embracing the occasion as Munster gear up for this Saturday’s all-Irish PRO14 final Vs Leinster.
It will be Munster’s first final since 2017’s defeat to Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium. The men in red have not won a trophy since the 2011 Magners League but there is a renewed confidence around Thomond Park this season.
The addition of quality signings like Joey Carbery, Tadhg Beirne, Damian De Allende, RG Snyman and Matt Gallagher in recent seasons has come as a very beneficial boost to Van Graan.
The often scrutinized Munster academy pathway has also emphatically silenced its critics. Munster have fielded 53 different players in the competition this season including a host of academy stars like Jack Crowley, Jake Flannery, Cian Hurley, Thomas Ahern and John Hodnett.
The future looks bright for Munster but the present isn’t so bad either. Munster will genuinely fancy their chances against Leinster for the first time in almost a decade. There is not much between the two teams on paper and with the form second row Tadhg Beirne and the departing CJ Stander find themselves in, the two-time European champions will not be short on inspiration.
“We are going to embrace and enjoy the week”, said Van Graan. “It’s the first time in a few years that Munster have been in a final so we are really looking forward to it. It’s a big challenge against the PRO14 champions of the last three years in their back yard in the RDS so it’s a massive challenge that awaits us but one that we are looking forward to very much. “
“It has been a really consistent campaign. If you include the European games we have won sixteen out of eighteen games and we have given 53 players the opportunity to play and it’s been a real squad effort.
“So I’m really glad for the group. This was one of our goals this season – to get past that home semi-final stage and because of Covid it worked out differently in that the team that tops the pool will get into the final. The fact we ended 19 points clear of Connacht is really satisfying from our point of view and now it’s about the final.
The final will of course present the opportunity for number eight CJ Stander to win his first piece of Silverware with the province. Stander bid farewell to the Irish national team last Saturday versus England in emotional fashion but Van Graan says the South African is putting the team first this weekend.
“CJ has been fantastic for Irish and Munster Rugby. He has played over 150 games for the club and we have a final to look forward to but this is not the end for CJ at Munster. We have got a European tie after this with Toulouse and a whole host of games up until the end of June. It’s another step in our journey of the season but from CJ’s individual point of view, it was great for him to get the win in his last test for Ireland.
“He was very emotional and it was a great send-off for him but he came in on Monday and said ‘it’s a massive game for the club.’ It’s never about him it’s always about the club. It would be great to win this weekend for a number of reasons and one of them will be CJ”
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