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Munster come up short again in trophy quest

Van Graan insists side is improving after second successive defeat

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Munster’s Gavin Coombes, CJ Stander and JJ Hanrahan dejected after the game

Munster’s Gavin Coombes, CJ Stander and JJ Hanrahan dejected after the game

�INPHO/Billy Stickland

Johann van Graan

Johann van Graan

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

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Munster’s Gavin Coombes, CJ Stander and JJ Hanrahan dejected after the game

For the second season running, Munster have failed to reach the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and while there have been mitigating factors, not least in terms of the quality of opposition they ran into, that should not detract from what is a major setback for a club of this stature.

Being drawn in last year's pool of death along with Saracens and Racing left Munster with an uphill battle that they ultimately fell short in, whereas this season's messy format pitted them against another one of Europe's heavyweights.

Toulouse were in no mood to be feeling sorry for Munster, who consolidated a difficult seven days all-round for the province, by falling short in their second season-defining game in a week.

The manner of the no-show against Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 final defeat will sting for some time yet and although Munster were far better against Toulouse on Saturday, that will come as scant consolation this morning when they reflect on one that got away.

For all that there were major improvements in Munster's performance, defensively they fell well short of the required level against a team of Toulouse's calibre.

Unfortunately that has been a common theme for Munster over the last two games, as they followed up a whopping 35 missed tackles against Leinster with another 32 in the defeat by Toulouse.

Sixty-seven missed tackles in two games is unacceptable at any level, let alone for a team as good as Munster, who needed to be water-tight against the relentless firepower of Leinster and Toulouse.

Johann van Graan will take little comfort from the fact that his side played their part in a thrilling contest in perfect conditions at Thomond Park.

They could have been preparing for a return to Clermont for a last eight clash this weekend, but the reality for Munster is, after this 40-33 defeat, their glass ceiling remains firmly intact.

The long wait for a trophy goes on and depending on how much stock one puts on the upcoming Rainbow Cup, it will be a while yet before Munster get a chance to get their hands on a trophy of note.

Perhaps that's the level Munster are currently at - just below the likes of Leinster and Toulouse - but Van Graan disagrees.

"We are improving every single season," the Munster head coach said.

"We believe we are at their level. I am incredibly happy with the coaching group, the management team, the squad, and what we are doing.

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"We are growing year on year and even though the result did not go our way today, I am sure if you look at the game you will see we put in a huge shift and we are exceptionally proud of all 23 players.

"The frustrating thing is we're so close every single time. We gave it our best shot and we came up short today. That happens in sport, it's certainly no excuse from my side, we've got to improve again.

"We feel if you look at the quality of that game that we've improved an immense amount over the course of the season.

"In terms of alignment from an organisation point of view, from a coaching group, from a players' point of view, we're all aligned and we're going to keep improving and we believe that the best is yet to come."

That gap is becoming more difficult to bridge, especially considering their rivals are constantly moving forward, whereas there is a sense that Munster are struggling to keep up.

They went toe-to-toe with a strong Toulouse side, but ultimately, the pace and power of the French outfit won out, as Munster were left to rue another missed opportunity.

"We have had a superb season with 16 wins out of 20 games, obviously we would have liked to have qualified for the Champions Cup quarters but you would agree it was a magnificent game of rugby and in certain games you come up short."

Worryingly for Munster, falling short when it matters most has become a recurring theme.


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