Tuesday 20 August 2019

'You can look at it half-empty or half-full. I'm going to look at it half-full'

Van Graan determined to remain positive despite Munster coaching departures

Munster head coach Johann van Graan says the province will take their time in appointing new coaches. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan says the province will take their time in appointing new coaches. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

This was always going to be a difficult week for Johann van Graan without the added responsibility of managing the message around the loss of two assistant coaches and working behind the scenes to replace them.

On Saturday, his Munster team face the game that for most will measure the levels of their progress over the first full year of the coach's tenure.

Last season, they reached the semi-final of the Champions Cup and then went out at the last-four stage of the Guinness PRO14 at the hands of Leinster at the RDS.

Having failed to come close to Saracens three weeks ago, they face the perception of treading water altogether if they can't get over the line in Dublin

Throw in the departure of Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery and it's not a good look for the first-time head coach who currently has just one assistant in place for next season.

He wants a team of five, with Rob Howley one of the potential candidates to join as Van Graan rubbished reports linking him to Mike Ruddock and Noel McNamara earlier this week.


In a change from his predecessor Rassie Erasmus, Van Graan is not hands-on when it comes to contracts for staff and players.

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Having identified his preferred candidates, Van Graan then hands the reins of recruitment and retention to interim chief executive Philip Quinn and the province's eight-man Professional Games Board (PGB) which is chaired by former winger John Kelly.

The head coach insisted that the fact that 22 players had committed their futures to the province, with Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne signing new deals with more than a year left on their current contracts, showed that the club is going in the right direction.

And while he admitted the contrast between the continuity in the dressing-room and the chaos in the coaching box is strange, he insisted nothing is amiss at the province as he reluctantly looks to overhaul his staff.

"I've said it all along, we've noted in our coaching staff, we wanted to bring in an additional coach to spread the workload on the four of us," he said.

"I've said it since I came in. Firstly, it's about finding the right people and we'll follow the right process in getting those people.

"It's identifying who those people are. You want three coaches across world rugby who are the right fit, and all at the same time line. So in a perfect world yes, but this is how it's worked out now, so we'll take our time in filling the positions.

"There's been talk about a lot of guys, so I'm not going to respond to any names (of replacements). I've read about a few guys who are supposedly on some shortlist, some guys I don't even know.

"We'll follow diligent process to get the right people at Munster Rugby. We'll take our time and the most important thing is we must take the team forward, and just make sure that we get guys who can better the team.

"Both Jerry and Felix are fantastic coaches. They're guys that I've trusted with my life, and both ways. We've worked well together so well and I guess you guys can see from the passion in my eyes I really wanted to keep them.

"Unfortunately, that's not the case and you can look at the bottle as half-full or half-empty, I'm going to look at it as half-full and look at positives, and we've got to take this team forward now."

The loss of former players Flannery and Jones won't weaken the connection between the club and its traditions, the coach said as he cited the example of team manager Niall O'Donovan and analyst George Murray who remain in place.

"I just want people in here who want to serve Munster and that is why I said when I came in here; it is not about me, it is about this club and doing what is best for this club," he said.

"We will do our best, but it doesn't matter where the coaches are from as long as Munster are winning and as long as we produce players for Ireland and this club keeps moving forward. That is all that is important to me."

Amongst all of that, there is a match to prepare for and a trophy to be won.

"From Munster Rugby's point of view, we want to win a trophy and in order to win a trophy, we have to beat Leinster in the RDS," Van Graan continued.

"It's hugely important for us. We can't win in Europe but we can win in the PRO14. If we want to even talk about winning the PRO14, we've got to get past Leinster into the final.

"European rugby is massive to this club with the history and what people have put into it. This group, we spoke in here over the last two weeks and we want to take the next step and get past that in the PRO14 as well.

"That's the only thing that's still in our hands for this season. So, in terms of the playing group, the management and the people involved in Munster rugby, we're going to give it everything we've got this weekend."

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