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Van Graan hails Friend impact as pals' paths cross again

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Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile

The meeting of Connacht and Munster at the Sportsground tomorrow will be the latest instalment in a friendship between the two head coaches which goes back a decade and a half and spans a few continents.

On the face of it, this perhaps should be the first meeting between South African Johaan van Graan and Australian Andy Friend but the two men are well acquainted and looking forward to pitting their wits together in a key PRO14 clash.

The friendship began when Van Graan followed his father Barend into the Blue Bulls and took up a coaching role which took him into Super Rugby.

Friend was on the coaching staff with the Waratahs and they met up through former Irish assistant coach Les Kiss and the friendship has continued as both Van Graan and the current Connacht boss took on different roles.

Van Graan said he is looking forward to meeting up with Friend again as their paths cross for the first time in the northern hemisphere.

"When I started off with the Bulls we were very good friends with Les Kiss at the Waratahs and I met Andy and his family for the first time in 2004 in Sydney.

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Connacht coach Andy Friend. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht coach Andy Friend. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

"Then he went to Harlequins and later he came to visit the Bulls with an old friend of mine John Kingston.

"Then he went to a few clubs after that, went to Suntory, he then went to the Australian 7s and when he came here, our paths cross again," said the Munster coach.

Van Graan, who is hoping tomorrow to stop a run of six successive away defeats to Irish provinces, said he has been very impressed with the job Friend has done so far in Connacht but he's not surprised that the Canberra native has been an immediate success.

"He is such a good man and I think he has made a real positive difference to not only Connacht but Irish rugby," added Van Graan.

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Irish Independent