Monday 14 October 2019

Cian Tracey: 'Reds in pursuit of perfection under determined Van Graan'

Munster fell short at the business end of last season and head coach Johann van Graan is hoping to have his men ready for all eventualities this time around. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster fell short at the business end of last season and head coach Johann van Graan is hoping to have his men ready for all eventualities this time around. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The pursuit of perfection is something that every coach and their players crave but, ultimately, very few manage to reach the promised land.

In Johann van Graan's mind, he has only ever been in involved in two, maybe three, perfect games in his coaching career and none of them have yet come with him running the show as the main man.

Given that the Munster gig is his first as a head coach, time is on Van Graan's side, yet there is a growing sense that his team are not far off producing the kind of big performance that they are undoubtedly capable of.

Since arriving in Limerick last year, the South African has seen his side perform in fits and starts without ever really firing on all cylinders for the full 80 minutes.

And that's according to Van Graan, who seeks perfection in every little detail that starts with himself and then what he demands of his players.

Missing

On paper, the arrival of Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne seem to be the missing pieces of the jigsaw, while Chris Farrell's return from injury was seen to be as good as a new signing.

However, Van Graan has still not been able to name his first-choice XV as injuries to Jean Kleyn, Tommy O'Donnell, Carbery and Farrell have denied him the opportunity to do so.

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That said, as Munster head to Castres on Saturday for what promises to be a tempestuous affair, they have enough weapons in their armoury to get a positive result that would keep them in pole position to qualify for the knockout stages.

"Every week you strive for the perfect game," Van Graan maintains.

"I've only been involved in two or three in my whole career where you say, 'That's close to the perfect game'.

"We want to get there as a squad. It would be great to play the (perfect) game every week, but I think we're showing improvements in each department.

"I thought mentally we overcame another battle last week, losing two players and filling the void and adapting our plan at half-time when anything could happen.

"Taking the game away from the opposition, it would be great to hit our straps this weekend, but you just never know.

"I also know you have to prepare accordingly every week because every rugby game is difficult.

"Even looking at Irish rugby at this stage, look from the outside in, all four provinces are doing so well and the Irish national team are doing so well. But that's not a given.

"Things might change in a week, but that won't mean that everything is wrong then. I think it's consistently doing well, that's what we're looking for.

"We've said the whole year, we've done well last year but right at the end we maybe fell short.

"We want to prepare the whole year to make sure that, if we get into a play-off game, to really hit our straps then. We'll just take it week by week."

Van Graan is not naive enough to think that Munster are the finished product and, in fact, the 38-year-old believes that they still have some distance to go this season before they will realistically challenge the best teams in Europe.

"We're not there yet," he admits.

"Our first 30 minutes against Edinburgh from an attacking point of view, the way we moved and the speed we were at, I think we were pretty close then.

"The second half of Round 6 last year against Castres, I thought we did that really well.

"Some parts of the Toulon game stand out, but a perfect game? No, not yet. That's the beauty of it, we have such a long way to go.

"We as a squad acknowledge that there's a European champion setting the benchmark at this stage.

"We're quite a way off that at this stage and we have to fight to get there."

Exeter's shock home defeat to Gloucester last weekend handed the initiative back to Munster and while it would take a series of unlikely events for the Chiefs to now advance to the quarter-finals, Van Graan is not ruling them out of the race just yet.

"The pool, look, it is obviously pretty tight," he adds.

"I have heard people say that Exeter are out now, I don't think so. They are a really proud side and there are three games to go and only three games are gone, so I think it will be a fiercely contested pool.

"That is the beauty of Europe. I said it last season, coming from the southern hemisphere, I think it is something brilliant in the north, the fact that so many things can still happen.

"No one is out until they factually can't make it and I see this group going down right to the wire in that last game.

"It is great, it's exciting, all five pools are brilliant to watch.

"That's from a fans' perspective, but from our perspective, we can only control our performance on Saturday in France."

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