Wednesday 14 November 2018

Van Graan set to learn about the IRFU's rotation system the hard way

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There are plenty of things that Johann van Graan has to learn in what is his first job as a head coach and over the next week, he will have to come to terms with the tricky parameters around having one of the top gigs in Ireland.

So far, the South African has shown an insatiable desire to learn and although he got his first wake-up call against Leinster earlier this week, the overall signs have been positive.

Taking over one of the four provinces means that you must bow to the IRFU. Ultimately, they are the paymasters and if they decide that an international player needs a rest, that is final. C'est la vie.

Matt O'Connor struggled to grasp the concept and his regular clashes with the union meant that the writing was on the wall from an early stage for the ex-Leinster boss.

Basket Understandably, Van Graan put all his eggs into the one basket in terms of selection for the defeat to Leinster but he will have been left scratching his head as the opposition team that arrived in Limerick was far from full strength.

Plenty of changes will be made for the New Year's Day trip to Belfast as Conor Murray and other front-liners are given the week off.

Leinster showed their strength in depth by coming away from Thomond Park with a bonus point and against an Ulster team who will be without the likes of Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson, Munster will be expected to bounce back.

Van Graan spent enough time with the Springboks to know how important the national set-up is but even still, he will learn a lot about Munster's depth chart after Monday's game and also following the visit of Connacht.

"Obviously it is in accordance with the IRFU player welfare and player management, which are very important," Van Graan said, in terms of his selection policy over the next week.

"The communication channels from Joe (Schmidt) to myself and David (Nucifora) to myself have been very good so certain guys can't play this weekend because they need some rest and some time away from the game and that's part and parcel of this game.

"So, no we are not going to put too much thought into that. It's just the next guy in has got to step up and deliver.

"If you make a lot of changes it does affect momentum and Connacht and Ulster have those extra three days now so they will be waiting for us in Belfast.

"But it is something we knew beforehand winning or losing (against Leinster) shouldn't influence that."

Ulster have been almost impossible to figure out this season. Just as they looked to have a turned a corner after two big wins in Europe, they were brought crashing back down to earth by a rampant Connacht side who put 44 points on them.

Yet, Van Graan warned: "I don't think you can go too much on their last performance.

"I thought to win away at 'Quins and put in a very good home performance at home against Quins they are very well set in Europe and well set in the PRO14.

"So they are a quality side and I can't control what Ulster does, we've just got to reset ourselves and we're going to go with quite a few changes for the Ulster game refine our plan and back on the depth of our squad to go and put in a good performance in Belfast."

Having made a flying start to life in Munster, the head coach is now looking for an immediate response from his players, as he looks to win his first inter-pro derby.

Van Graan is by no means under pressure at this stage, which is more than you can say about Les Kiss, who is really feeling the heat.

"I always take it personally, I hate to lose," Van Graan insisted. "But yeah, you have got to be consistent in your thinking. This is a team game, we weren't good enough against Leinster and then go back to zero, win or lose, and start again.

"That's the brilliant thing about rugby and the brilliant thing about sport, you will lose and you will win.

"Life is 10pc what happens to you and 90pc how you react to it.

"I think it's the same in every country, you know when the best players take on each other it is personal.

Collisions "There is a lot of big collisions and I thought in terms of a spectacle the crowd (at Leinster game) were treated to a great game of rugby but you don't want to lose great games you want to win great game.

"I thought it was played in a very good spirit and credit to both sides that came out to play and credit to Leinster who won on the night."

A win at the Kingspan would be the ideal response to losing at home to the old foes but even if that doesn't happen, this is still very early days in the Van Graan era.

The panic button will not be pressed.

"We said as a team when I came four weeks ago, they said some things happened last year, a lot of improvement," he added.

"Rassie (Erasmus) said it last year as well, in the big games we are still one or two scores short so we'll go back to zero plan again, just take it week for week.

"Then hopefully at the end of the season we'll make the improvements nearer to the big games, home and away."

Irish Independent

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