Friday 23 August 2019

Let's get to work

Zebre trip is ideal way for Van Graan era to kick off

Johann van Graan speaks to his players during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Johann van Graan speaks to his players during training. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

It's back to business for the Guinness PRO14 this weekend, and Johann van Graan's Munster reign begins with a trip to Zebre for a clash with an Italian outfit who are capable of an upset but should provide ample opportunity for the South African to bed in and begin with a win.

The fact that Munster are travelling to Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi could be a massive bonus, because despite the length of the journey ahead of them, the players and coaching now have the chance to spend some time with their new head coach.

Munster will be away from any of the distractions at home in Ireland, in their own bubble - in a hotel, with a chance to bond.

Playing Italian sides away from home is much tougher than here in Ireland. And with Conor O'Shea constantly improving the system over there, Treviso and Zebre have got better. They are starting to see the fruits of their labour this season especially.

Career

But it's still a good game for Johann to get stuck into, and get some points on the board straight away in his Munster career.

However, Munster do need all hands at the wheel at the moment with the loss of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber. It has just been Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones in the last few weeks covering all aspects on and off the field, which has been a big challenge for them, no doubt.

They need Johann and one or two more experienced coaches to come in, because it's a big task to coach Munster on and off the field no matter who you are and what you have done in the game.

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Jerry and Felix will be delighted to get a helping hand, and it's great that the new regime finally gets the chance to start. Rassie and Jacques were fantastic for Munster, but this move had been coming for some time, and it's good that the changeover has finally taken place. 

The management team can find themselves now in the coming weeks, developing the right relationship and work to bed down. It's going to be a challenge for everyone involved in the set-up but you would hope it can go through relatively seamlessly.

Johann will have his own style but that will come out in time, and maybe even into next season. I'm sure that because he arrives halfway through 2017-18, there will be an element of Jerry and Felix having to coach Johann in the style of what they are doing.

He needs to get up to speed twice as quick as a coach usually does, so there is a big onus for Jerry and Felix, but there are no better fellas to get things sorted quickly and under pressure.

There is a tough round of games coming up after this one, and there won't be too much time for Johann to settle down on the field. There will be a bit of a grace period but everything will build towards the two Champions Cup games with Leicester Tigers now

The teams all start off at full tilt in Europe, and it usually comes to a head around rounds three and four. Certainly these two games are huge, especially the fact that they are back-to-back as well. 

But first up Munster need to take care of Zebre. There are a lot of new coaches and ideas coming into Italy, they are looking at structures and ways of doing things. 

Zebre are progressing, in becoming more professional, and they can cause upsets but from where Munster are and their squad, talent and depth-wise, I don't think Munster should be thinking anything other than a win. 

Complacency

You would hope confidence would be there within the Munster squad. There won't be any complacency, but they should be heading to Italy looking to come away with the win regardless of the couple of weeks off. 

I know Munster have been working really hard. Felix has been helping them with some pre-season-style work in the last few weeks and they should be able to back their fitness. 

It's important to get those fitness hits throughout the year. Sometimes with injuries and time off it can go the other way. It's great Munster can get that bit of work done. Hopefully we will see the fruits of that hard work this weekend.

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