Head coach Johann van Graan has ranked Munster’s Champions Cup quarterfinal victory over Toulon alongside the finest of his coaching career.
A moment of magic from wing Andrew Conway helped seal a 20-19 win and book a second successive European semifinal for the Irish province, who were missing seven first-team regulars at Thomond Park.
Van Graan, who only arrived in Limerick in November, joked that it is “the Munster way to do it the difficult way” following Conway’s 75th-minute intervention.
For a coach who has three Super Rugby titles, as well as victories over the All Blacks, already on his CV it brought memories flooding back of the first of those finals while on the coaching staff at the Bulls.
Eleven years ago it was Bryan Habana who possessed the skill to decide a close encounter against the Sharks in Durban — that would also finish 20-19 — on Saturday it was Conway.
“When the score went to 19-13 it took me back to 2007, when the Bulls played the Sharks in the Super Rugby final in Durban,” he said. “The Bulls that day also won with an incredible try from Bryan Habana.
“In terms of emotion, this is close to the best for me personally. Obviously being part of rugby, beating the All Blacks [is good] but in terms of Munster this is incredible.
“I said from day one, it’s not about me, I want to be part of something special and [after] a performance like that I want to be the coach and credit to the whole management and all the players for getting out a victory.
“One of my personal sayings is ‘One point is the biggest and smallest margin in the world’ but we’ll take one point.”
Matchwinner Conway had been a doubt for the Thomond Park game, with his chances of making it rated as only 50-50 earlier in the week. “All credit to our medical staff and to Andrew for pulling through and delivering a magical moment,” van Graan added.
“To come back from an injury and put in a performance like that, starting on the wing and ending at fullback, I think that’s what this team is about.”
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony was equally effusive about the six-times capped Ireland back.
“A lot of fellas would have been happy to leave that ball go out,” he said of Conway’s decision to keep Francois Trinh-Duc’s wayward clearance in play. “But that was a piece of individual brilliance and we’re lucky to have these guys on our team.”
Munster will now face either Clermont or Racing 92 in France in three weeks, and they won’t lack for confidence regardless of the opposition following a performance such as was delivered on Saturday.
“I’ve seen in my life whenever people believe it’s incredible what human beings can do,” van Graan said. “We were up against it from the first minute, even when we qualified in Jan we knew we were going to be up against it.
“It’s incredible what we did today.”