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Injuries proved more hurtful than red card, says Munster chief Van Graan

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Munster director of rugby Johann Van Graan had no complaints over the red card shown to Sam Arnold in Ulster's stunning comeback victory at Kingspan Stadium yesterday evening.

The southern province were leading by 17 points to nil at half-time, but Ulster were a different side after the turn and ran in four second-half tries to secure a bonus point win from a game when they had looked dead and buried.

All of the host's points came with a numerical advantage however, after Fineen Wycherley was handed a yellow card and former Ulsterman Arnold was dismissed.

Arnold's red came for a high tackle on Christian Leali'ifano when Darren Cave was in the process of scoring Ulster's first points of the game, and the card proved the catalyst for the comeback that denied Munster a third straight win in Belfast.

"Firstly we're very disappointed after that start, to be up 17-0," said the South African who replaced compatriot Rassie Erasmus in November.

"But you have to keep 15 men on the field in this game. We went down to 13.

"The referee was in a difficult spot there. Sammy went for the tackle and he hit him in the head. I don't think the referee had any choice.

"It wasn't intentional at all, the spirit of the game was fantastic."

Beyond the reshuffle required by the ill-discipline, Munster were beset by injuries, with Van Graan admitting his already under-strength panel had difficulty in coping with the knocks.

Captain Billy Holland was the first to be called ashore, while Niall Scannell,Tommy O'Donnell, Calvin Nash and James Cronin also couldn't see out the game.

"I thought Ulster played some good rugby in that first-half, we just took our opportunities better," he said.

"We left some points out there with our goal-kicking in the first-half but we came up here with a lot of changes and then we had a lot of injuries in the game.

"We lost Billy Holland, who was our captain, it passed on to Niall Scannell and we lost him too, Tommy O'Donnell as well and Calvin Nash.

"It's not an excuse at all but after that we struggled to contain them."

With the two sides having already lost the first of three straight interpros, both were looking for a response on New Year's Day, and initially there was only one team in the game.

Munster had suffered through the sting of losing to bitter rivals Leinster on their own patch on Boxing Day and, even with a much-changed line-up, Van Graan was at least pleased with how his side responded in racing out to an early lead.

"We said we wanted a good start after last week. That's one of the best starts I've seen in a while. But it's disappointing to lose a game that I thought we were in control of.

"I'm very happy with the pack. Our line-out contested well, our loose forwards did well, but unfortunately we couldn't keep 15 men on the field."

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