'I'm very disappointed and sad that they are leaving' - Munster boss van Graan reacts to coaching exodus
Johann van Graan says Munster did everything in their power to retain the services of assistant coaches Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery, who last week announced they were leaving the province at the end of the season.
The head coach admitted his disappointment at losing two valued members of staff who both turned down Munster's contract offers and chose to walk away.
Van Graan is now working with the province's Professional Games Board (PGB) and the IRFU to recruit a new team of coaches to work with him and defence guru JP Ferreira next season, while also preparing the team for their season-defining PRO14 semi-final against Leinster on Saturday.
Joey Carbery and Keith Earls are set to return to the team having returned to full training, while Rhys Marshall is also in the mix.
However, despite the size of the fixture it was the off-field matters that dominated van Graan's press conference this morning.
"I am very disappointed and sad that they are leaving. Two fantastic coaches and more importantly two brilliant Munster men," he said.
"We believe that competitive terms were offered and they rejected their contract offers. From a personal point of view, it's two guys that I have worked really well with and unfortunately they are moving on.
"It was the intention of the PGB to make sure that they finalised my contract first and then the other two assistant coaches.
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"Unfortunately it didn't work out that they will be staying. I believe we did everything we could. Really sad to see them going. Now we have a few voids to fill. First up is the semi-final with Leinster and then the process will be on-going to find their replacements."
One factor in the recruitment of replacements is the timing of the World Cup. Rob Howley is the most prominent name being linked with a role at the province and he would not be available until after Wales finish their campaign in Japan.
"The continuity is one of the most important things in world sport," van Graan said.
"Obviously, we will lose a bit of continuity on the coaching side. It is something that I hoped that we could retain.
"But, that is professional sport and you have got to be able to adapt.
"The positive thing about it is we have retained 22 players. Our playing squad will be exactly the same, bar Nick (McCarthy) coming in front the outside. Unfortunately, life happens. We will have to adapt.
"Luckily we have done our pre-season planning in terms of what we need to do. We have got a fantastic medical and S&C (strength and conditioning) staff that will handle the first part of the pre-season.
"Because of the World Cup the PRO14 will start so much later so we have got a bit of time. I am not going to sit here and say it is ideal but it is what it is now and we have got to deal with that and see the positive out of it.
"There is massive opportunity in this disappointment and hopefully we can see the bright side of it."
Van Graan inherited his two assistants and now has an opportunity to reshape his backroom team in his own image, however he says he was happy to continue with Jones and Flannery as assistants.
"When I came in I was given a coaching staff and I knew exactly what I was coming in to," he said.
"We worked really well together and I was on record saying that I wanted to retain both of Felix and Jerry. Unfortunately it isn't going to be the case.
"I just want to say, it is not my people, it is what is best for Munster Rugby. I have said it from the first day that this club is not about me it is what is best for Munster.
"Together with the PGB and Irish Rugby we have got to do what is the best for Munster in terms of what that picture will exactly be depending on who we want to bring in.
"There will be a lot of names thrown around but hopefully finish the season on a high over the next two weeks and then follow the process to get quality people into Munster Rugby."
Although attention from the outside is naturally focused on the backroom changes, van Graan says the squad and management is intent on finishing the season on a high.
"We as a group spoke about it. It's actually been a fantastic PRO14 season. We've won 17 out of our 22 games, we're very proud of our home record and the improvements we've made away," he said.
"At the start we said there will be ebbs and flows, we didn't put in a quality performance against Treviso and we looked at that.
"But the positive out of this is that only three or four teams can still win it and for us it's a massive challenge for us to go to the RDS and play against Leinster.
"I thought they put in a really good shift against Saracens, the two best teams in Europe had a go at each other at the weekend and that's our challenge; to go and beat the champions in their own backyard.
"They're such a quality outfit, there will be a real challenge from our side if we can progress."
Van Graan said the team is determined to learn from past semi-final defeats.
"There's so many things, a lot of championship moments that you have to win," he said.
"Against Saracens, we didn't start particularly well - we lost the aerial battle and I believe it's something Leinster will target, it's something that we've worked on.
"Then, finishing our opportunities, in the semi-final against Sarries we had some opportunities where we weren't clinical enough.
"You've really got to earn those moments in every single rugby game, even in the weekend in that European final there were instances when Leinster could have scored and taken the game away from Sarries and subsequently there were opportunities on the other side.
"So, use your opportunities and the most important thing if you want to get to a final you have got to play well.
"We've got to really go down to Dublin and play well to beat Leinster."