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Van Graan to take his time with review ahead of 'big summer' for Munster

The Munster head coach admits reinforcements are unlikely to be brought in for next season.

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

MUNSTER HEAD COACH Johann van Graan says, as things stand, scrum-half Nick McCarthy will be the only new addition to his squad for next season despite the province ending another campaign trophy-less and utterly deflated.

As was the case last year, Munster’s season came to a crashing halt in Dublin on Saturday afternoon and in the wake of yet another semi-final defeat, the fourth of van Graan’s time in charge, the South African admitted it is a ‘big summer’ for the whole organisation.

Peter O'Mahony speaks to his teammates in the huddle after the game Peter O'Mahony speaks to the Munster players at full-time. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In his post-match appraisal, van Graan cited his side’s indiscipline — they conceded 13 penalties and leaked a crucial try during Niall Scannell’s time in the bin — as the primary reason why Munster suffered their eighth semi-final defeat since they last lifted a trophy in 2011.

But as significant as the penalty count was, the end scoreline, with James Lowe’s late try stretching Leinster’s lead to 15 points, was a fairly accurate representation of the current gulf between the two provinces. Munster huffed and puffed here, but despite bringing energy and endeavour to the contest, managed just one linebreak in the 80 minutes.

Whereas Leinster were clinical in taking their chances at one end, Munster again lacked a cutting edge at the other, another try-less and frustrating afternoon in attack pretty much summing up their season. 

“We spoke about it inside, we’ll take our time doing the review because you’ve got to start right at the beginning,” van Graan said, when asked how he will reflect on his second season in Limerick. 

“The things we did well, we were very good at home, undefeated throughout the whole season. Small margins, as a group we hoped Leinster could have beaten Glasgow at home here a few weeks ago and then we probably would have had a home semi-final. I said it last season, it’s crucial to get home semi-finals. In the last 10 years, I think Leinster have lost a home semi-final once, against the Scarlets.

Winning our pool in Europe was a very big plus for us and getting an away quarter-final win. We’ve got to review and then move on again.

Sitting at the top of the RDS media room alongside Peter O’Mahony, it felt like going over old ground with a despondent van Graan. He had been in the exact position 12 months previous, and the same questions were being asked.  

What does this squad need to get better at?

“Performance under pressure is one thing,” he continued. “I think today our ball carriers got reefed quite a bit from the opposition, fair play to Leinster for that.

“One of the key things from the season is our patience. We created multiple opportunities, didn’t finish them and that’s on the whole group. Even though our defence is very good, the ability to concede after multiple phases, especially against the top teams like Leinster and Saracens.

“Certainly we’ll have a really good look at where we believe the game is going to
go in the next two or three years and then adapt from there.”


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Johann van Graan during the post match press conference Van Graan and O'Mahony after Saturday's defeat. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Will that involve bringing in reinforcements to help Munster get to the next level?

“No, so I’ve previously mentioned at this stage, we’re only getting Nick in for next
season and that’s where we currently stand. Obviously, with the World Cup coming up, there might be some short-term opportunities, depending on who goes to the World Cup but at this stage, this is the group that we’ve got.

“I think we’ll do our review first. It’s a constant process between the IRFU and Munster and currently, that’s the squad that we have.”

What makes it even harder is the upheaval behind the scenes too, with The Sunday Times yesterday reporting Doug Howlett is leaving his role as Munster’s head of commerical and marketing, following Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones out the exit door.

Not only is van Graan tasked with finding the answers to all of these questions, but he must now recruit two, if not three, new coaches to add to his backroom team over the course of the summer. 

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you a different story. It is going to be difficult,” he adds.

“The positive is we’ve got continuity in our players and in terms of our S&C and our medical department, and in our general department, we’ve got a lot of continuity.

“Now hopefully we will find the right people who will fit into Munster, and make us a better team. Like I said, 28 September [start of new season] is a long time away, although time flies quickly. So we’ll take our time, try and find the right people, and then move forward.”

A big summer ahead indeed.

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Ryan Bailey

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