Johann van Graan: "We're very lucky to have Tyler Bleyendaal at Munster"

Colm Kinsella, Rugby Correspondent


Colm Kinsella, Rugby Correspondent


Johann van Graan: "We're very lucky to have Tyler Bleyendaal at Munster"

Munster out-half Tyler Bleyendaal and head coach Johann van Graan pictured at a squad training session at UL

MUNSTER head coach Johann van Graan insists the side cannot get caught up in the province’s disappointing record in Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals ahead of Saturday’s big showdown with Saracens.

Munster will be targeting a first Heineken Champions Cup final appearance since 2009 when locking horns with Gallagher Premiership giants Saracens at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, 3pm.

The two-time European Cup winners have lost no fewer than six semi-finals since their 2008 semi-final win over Saturday’s opponents Saracens at the Ricoh Arena.

Van Graan said: “We can’t look at the past and what happened in the past. We took what we could out of two semi final losses last season (Heineken Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14), did a big review on that after last season and we believe we learnt out of them.

“If we win on the weekend everybody will say we’ve learnt our lessons. If we don’t win people will say Munster lost another semi-final. Our only focus is what we do in the week and how do we handle Saracens on Saturday afternoon.

“Unfortunately they are a fantastic rugby team. The more you look at them the better they become. It’s a massive challenge for us to go and beat them in England. If we want to get past the semi final we’ll have to be very good on Saturday afternoon.”

With Ireland out-half Joey Carbery ‘highly unlikely’ to play this weekend due to a hamstring injury, Van Graan looks set to hand the starting out-half jersey to New Zealander Tyler Bleyendaal.

The former All-Black U20 captain has fought back from a serious neck injury in recent seasons to regain full fitness. Van Graan has been hugely impressed with Bleyendaal’s contribution to Munster, both on and off the pitch.

Van Graan added: “One of the first people that I actually met when I came here in that first week of the Racing game, two years ago, he was one of the first guys that I met.

“His composure and his calmness impressed me straight away and Tyler is a very consistent guy, whether injured or not, he gives the same amount of input every week.

“He sits in on every meeting and he is just one of those guys in the team that is a real energy giver. He doesn't say that much, but what he says has got some real value and he is a massive influence at Munster Rugby.

“There was a lot of questions asked as to why I re-signed him and it is specifically for weeks like this.

“He is a great man, a very good rugby player, he understands the game of rugby and I think we are very lucky to have him.”

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony believes Munster are a better side than the one which lost to Racing 92 at the semi-final stage of last season’s Champions Cup.

“We put in a lot of work over the past 12 months and I think that we are a different animal to what we were; further down the track. Don’t get me wrong we are under no illusions as to how it is going to be. We are definitely a better side that we were last year.”

Munster have lost nine of their 13 Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals to date.

Saturday’s semi-final showdown, which will be refereed by French official Jerome Garces will be televised live on BT Sport and also on Live95.