Thursday 18 July 2019

Van Graan plots with Reds' long game in mind

New Munster boss staying focused after unbeaten start

Munster coach Johann van Graan chatting to the media in Limerick yesterday Photo: Sportsfile
Munster coach Johann van Graan chatting to the media in Limerick yesterday Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Four games, four victories, two key players tied to new three-year contracts - things could hardly be going much better for Johann van Graan since he landed in Munster.

The South African took over the province not wanting to change too much too quickly and the benefits of that have been seen in the performances of late.

Peter O'Mahony is a proud Munster man
Peter O'Mahony is a proud Munster man

The style hasn't deviated away from what Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber instilled and a lot of that credit has to go to Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones whose influence has helped steady the ship.

Music

Another new face arrives in training this morning as JP Ferreira begins life as Munster's new defence coach but like Van Graan, he will not be asked to run before he can walk.

The mood music has of course also been helped by Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander committing their futures to the province.

With Simon Zebo headed for France next season, it was imperative Munster didn't lose two more influential figures.

A defeat in either of the games against Leicester would have offered an altogether different complexion to Van Graan's arrival but, as it is, two, very impressive back-to-back victories has left Munster firmly in control of their Champions Cup pool before the tournament resumes next month.

If the 37-year-old had any doubts about taking on such a big head coach position for the first time, he certainly hasn't shown it.

"Fear is part of parcel of everyday life," Van Graan maintains.

"All of us have fears, the main thing is to know why you do things. To be confident about the process you follow and the people around you.

"As I said from day one, this is not about me. I don't believe any single guy can influence a group so much that you will win or lose by just being there for a week or two. Not at all. I am here hopefully for a long time.

"I hope to make a very good contribution towards Munster and Irish rugby. It's a long season to go, so it is a great start for me personally but it's not always about the result.

"Hopefully we will do well and get into the play-offs in both competitions at the end of the year and we will take it from there."

Van Graan has walked into Irish rugby at a time when both the national team and the four provinces are flourishing.

After Ireland won all three games of the autumn series, the provinces won all eight of their combined European games in the last fortnight. Not too shabby at all.

"Irish rugby is in a fantastic spot," Van Graan agrees.

"The national team have been playing brilliant rugby for the past four or five years. Munster and Leinster were in the Champions Cup semi-finals last year and Munster played in the PRO14 final.

"In the Champions Cup this year Ulster had a fantastic showing winning home and away against Harlequins. Leinster versus Exeter, and Munster versus Leicester. Connacht had a good home and away win as well.

"It's great that a lot of quality guys are not going to other parts of Europe, staying in Ireland. And it's pretty evident that Irish Rugby are doing a lot of things very well at this stage."

The unwanted distraction of contract negotiation season has thankfully been put to bed for now, and inside the Munster squad there is a real sense of togetherness.

The money-laden French and English clubs will continue to hover around Irish players and while Van Graan accepts that is the reality, he is already beginning to see the reason why so many players pass up more lucrative offers to remain on these shores.

Parcel

"Money is part and parcel of the game," he insists. "What I do know is life is not always about money. Money is important but people need to be happy.

"People need to believe in something. People need to believe in a dream. Players and coaches need to be a part of a team because a team makes you feel good.

"The feeling we had in the changing room after that Leicester game you can't describe. After putting everything in during the week and getting a result against top-quality opposition, that's the beauty of the game.

"And then coming in and enjoying yourself every day, that's important. That's why I am a big believer in environment first, a place where people can be themselves, live out their dreams and come to work and smile.

"Where you work is where you spend so much time of every single day. We are going to hope to keep improving the environment in Munster.

"People are in a very good spot in all four provinces and the Irish team are a very happy team.

"It's about improving and setting standards where players and coaches can improve. Hopefully we can offer that more than just money."

Like Van Graan, Ferreira will be thrust into the deep end as he joins mid-season but the solid foundations that are in place should make the transition as seamless as it was for the new boss.

"He's been in constant contact with Andy Farrell and Jacques Nienaber," Van Graan adds.

"We as coaches, we keep reminding ourselves that clarity and simplicity is the main message. It's all about the team.

"Like I said before, that's the beauty of quality people. Find a person first and then give him a job. We're just going to keep working away.

"Hopefully at the end of April we qualify for play-off games and fight for trophies."

Irish Independent

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