Munster head coach Johann van Graan paid tribute to his “group of warriors” following the epic 20-19 Champions Cup quarter-final win over Toulon at Thomond Park.
South African van Graan, in his first season in charge of the Irish province, is now planning for a European semi-final trip to France after Andrew Conway’s sensational 74th-minute solo try helped the two-time champions edge past Toulon in front of a sold-out crowd.
Appearing in a record 17th Champions Cup quarter-final, Munster had trailed by six points when Chris Ashton crossed for a 64th-minute try for the French heavyweights, who lifted the title in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
However, Conway’s try and Ian Keatley’s all-important conversion wrenched victory away from the visitors’ grasp.
Van Graan said: “It was an incredible game of rugby. I thought two great sides, two great clubs that went at each other for 82, 83 or 84 minutes. There were a lot of ebbs and swings in that game.
“I thought they started really well. I thought we fought our way back into it.
Leading 10-6, we got some momentum straight after half-time, put points on the board. We scored a try, they scored a try. We were six points down. We plan for situations like this. It is easy to plan it, it is very difficult to execute it.
“We scored a fantastic try (through Andrew), converted it to kill the game there for the last few minutes. I think gratitude is the main word. It is a fantastic honour to coach a group of warriors.
“If it gets better than this it is going to be something amazing because like I said before, all the odds were stacked against us, I don’t think a lot of people gave us a chance, but if you have 23 guys who believe, a coaching and management staff that believe, a squad of players who believe and a club that really believes, you can do the unthinkable and you can make dreams come true.”
Munster, who also benefited from the quick-thinking of Conor Murray for an opportunist first-half try, travel to South Africa on Monday for two games in the Guinness Pro14. They will face either Clermont Auvergne or Racing 92 on French soil in their Champions Cup semi-final next month.
Toulon’s English second-rower Dave Attwood felt their failure to convert a number of scoring opportunities proved crucial, with the back-three of Ashton, Josua Tuisova and Semi Radradra all denied tries by some last-ditch Munster challenges.
“They got more points than us. We had opportunities. We had a number of opportunities but we didn’t finish them off. Then we made a couple of key defensive mistakes that really cost us, cost us dearly,” admitted Attwood.
“You know, the spirit here (at Thomond Park) is incredibly strong. It has been for an awfully long time and that builds a lot of pressure on the other team. It doesn’t take many mistakes to lose a game, particularly in the quarter-finals of the top tier of Europe. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong end of that day.”