Saturday 21 September 2019

Johan van Graan: 'We'll do what works for us'

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward.

Johann van Graan did not watch Leinster's Champions Cup final win as it happened but a few hours after the event. With no skin in the game, this represented another opportunity for cold, clinical analysis.

No time to muse about the missed opportunity of their last semi-final when there is still time to rectify regret with the next.

And so the coach settled on Saturday evening, clipboard and red pen on one side of his sitting, a remote control, the left finger poised on pause, on another.

Time to go to work.

"You have to make sure your emotions did not become part of it," he says. Nonetheless, his admiration for the champions, and the environment that created that status, was unequivocal.

"What I will say is that it is very positive to be part of an Irish system. It is a system that works, two Irish sides in a Champions Cup semi-finals.


JJ Hanrahan. Photo: Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan. Photo: Sportsfile

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"I am a guy who believes you get what you deserve, and Leinster deserved to be Champions Cup winners. They won nine out of nine. Well done to them."

It can be argued too, perhaps, that Munster have got what they deserved in recent times: a steady run of semi-final and final appearances that reflects their admirable consistency, but also the lack of silverware which represents their inability to make the final leap.

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"Time is an incredible thing. We have not thought too much about that. We will take a review after the season, but at this stage that is not our focus. Our focus is on Saturday afternoon.

"After a game you have emotions and frustrations. Knockout games are huge. We have been on the wrong end of one or two games.

"It is our job as coaches and management and players to get to the next level."

And so Munster seek once more to advance that final step but it is impossible to ascertain with how much certainty.

Against Racing in Bordeaux, it appeared for all the world, based on selection and tactics, that they were so intent on making the final quarter of the game pay that they simply overlooked the importance of the first quarter.

Instead of being in a position to strike for home after the hour, they instead effectively lost the game in the first 20 minutes.

Racing rolled their own set of dice, trusting in their ability to build an ominous early lead to protect them from a final onslaught; they couldn't repeat the trick last weekend.

Munster returned to domestic duty and again they seemed to pre-determine their approach, even though effecting a substantial selection shift at out-half.

They got dragged into a dour arm-wrestle against Edinburgh but a moment of Simon Zebo flair in a game featuring none helped them over the line.

Since then, they have spoken of the need to play more ball, particularly now against a Leinster side who have played some of the best rugby witnessed north of the equator this season.

But as Van Graan watched Racing repeatedly restrict Leinster's expansive pretensions last weekend, he could be forgiven for second-guessing himself.

Might the better route to success be to primarily stop the other team playing rather than attempt to outplay them?

Especially when the impression persists that Munster remain a team who are better at applying pressure than consistently creating it themselves.

"We did manage to play a few times against Edinburgh," Van Graan argues. "Our execution let us down once or twice.

"It was a final over the weekend and finals come with a different kind of pressure, it's all or nothing.

"That's what Racing do well, they put them under pressure. Leinster also had their opportunities and if they finished them the score might have been different.

"But we'll do what works well for us, focus on our kicking game and our set-piece and once a few opportunities present themselves we'll definitely look to take them.

"When you play opponents like that you've got to take yourself out of your comfort zone as well."

As much as Munster will try to emulate Racing's work off the ball, their prospects of success will be determined by what they do on the ball.

And much of that will be predicated upon whether or not they stick with JJ Hanrahan or revert to Ian Keatley.

It represents not a debate about which man is the superior player but which of them offers the coaching team the more favourable option to effect a positive game-plan.

Van Graan has hinted that changes will be minimal, not drastic, which would seem to confirm that Hanrahan will stay; he must if Munster are committed to finding another way to succeed.

"JJ did pretty well against Edinburgh, he's played well over the last seven weeks.

"In the big games, I didn't make a lot of changes at 10 and at nine.

"In the Toulon game, Ian played for 80 minutes so you can see I don't like to change the nine and 10 too much in big games.

"Whoever we go with on the weekend, we back that nine and 10 and, if the game situation lends it towards that ,then we'll make a change at the right time."

Van Graan, as he did last Saturday, must operate without emotion, a trait he admired in Leinster, too, and transmit this to his team.

"I don't need to convince them. They believe it. This is a club that believes in themselves."

Irish Independent

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