Monday 26 August 2019

Comment - Van Graan makes good first impression, now the real work starts

 

Munster head coach Johann van Graan during press conference at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan during press conference at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

When Johann van Graan strode into the auditorium at Munster Rugby's High Performance Centre, he did so with purpose.

Whether his enthusiasm held through after 40 or so minutes with the fourth estate is perhaps doubtful, but he was out to make a good first impression and began with a round of handshakes that left those of us used to withering contempt a little taken aback.

After 19 versions of 'Hi, I'm Johann, pleased to meet you' and a couple of little asides, he was ready to begin his first press conference.

This was the new man's chance to put his best foot forward and he wasn't about to let it pass him by.

Clearly, he values his first impression and the public relations side of the house, in contrast with some of his rivals.

In Connacht, Kieran Keane doesn't seem to care how his media engagements are perceived while at Leinster Leo Cullen treats the whole thing with a sense of ennui.

The South African, however, favoured a strong first impression and had clearly put plenty of thought into the engagement.

His well-prepared approach more closely mirrored Les Kiss, who similarly considers these things important, with a little bit of Joe Schmidt steel thrown into the equation.

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Unfailingly polite, even addressing some older members of the press as 'Sir', he was considered and thorough.

At times he veered into management speak and a little jingoism, but you had to remember that English has not been his primary method of communication.

Straight questions were given forthright answers where possible, while he reserved the right to keep his counsel where needed.

As an assistant coach with the Blue Bulls and the Springboks, he was largely protected from this side of the coaching game - others went front of house as he was allowed to do his primary business behind the scenes, improving players and creating game-plans.

No one in rugby feels pressure like the South Africa supremo and having served under Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee at times of near national strife after losing to Japan, Italy and September's record loss to New Zealand, he'll have watched and learnt from their approach.

He told of how he turned his back on a promising playing career at 21 to pursue his dream of coaching and mentioned his ultimate ambition of taking on a national team one day but was clear on the fact that such talk was all secondary to the need to work with this current squad to get immediate results.

Relationship

Already he appears to have a good relationship with Schmidt which will help him in the weeks and months to come.

Next week, he'll meet Matt O'Connor after taking on Leicester Tigers and no doubt the Australian can caution him about taking the Ireland coach on.

Still, he will have to fight Munster's corner and the first battle-ground will be the retention of Peter O'Mahony.

This Saturday, he'll experience Irish Independent Park for the first time as he takes full control of the team against the Ospreys.

After that, it's European back-to-backs with Leicester, followed by three interpros followed by the defining Champions Cup pool games against Racing 92 and Castres.

By then, Van Graan will have a much better idea of what Limerick, Munster and Ireland are all about, while the Munster fans will have measured him up.

Yesterday, he made a good first impression. Now, the real work begins.

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