'I said to him that when I met him a few years ago that I have so much belief in him'
Munster head coach Johann Van Graan praised the part the passionate home support played as they reached the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals with a 34-23 aggregate win over Exeter at Thomond Park.
Twenty-one points from fly-half Joey Carbery, including a crucial first-half try, and a tour de force display from returning captain Peter O’Mahony helped the hosts overcome Exeter’s gritty challenge, winning the second leg 26-10.
Exeter had led the contest 13-8 after last Saturday’s opening clash at Sandy Park. However, their hopes of progressing to the last eight were finally dashed by a 72nd-minute try from South African centre Damian De Allende.
Van Graan said: “Look, two very proud clubs went at each other, a very unique experience over the two legs, but the 16th man pulled us through today.
“We, as a group, said that to claw back that five-point difference is going to be massive. The fact that we were unbeaten in the pool stages meant that we were always going to finish up here at Thomond Park.
“We banked on the crowd and they were phenomenal today. We knew it was going to be a breakdown and a set-piece battle, that is why we went 6-2 again (in terms of the forwards-backs split on the bench).
“The starters did really well and I felt that the forwards that came on were massive, with some massive hits.
“Exeter keep the ball well and I felt we were extremely disciplined in terms of when to go for the breakdown. I’m very glad that we just came through, with plus-11 points over the two weekends.”
Van Graan described Carbery as “a special player”, adding: “I said to him earlier in the week that when I had met him a few years ago that I have so much belief in him. He is such a special player.”
“I can talk through the game in all kinds of ways, but there is a reality that we were not where we needed to be today to win that game,” he said.
“We started pretty brightly and then our first set in defence was so far off what we were achieving last week with its intensity and collision quality, that worried me a little bit.
“That probably made me have some concerns, with how simple that momentum came and how simple the (Carbery) try came. To be fair to the lads, we fought our way back into the game at times and we score our second try, it becomes a tight contest again.
“I thought Munster were where they needed to be and we weren’t. I think that is great credit to Munster and the crowd and the emotion they created together.
“I thought it was fantastic for them. But we needed to be better than we were today.”
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