Van Graan speaking at his post-match press conference yesterday evening. Gary Carr/INPHO
Moving Forward

'One of the things I got from Rassie was when he said, 'they played so well and then in May, fell a bit short''

Johann van Graan has enjoyed a good few months in the job and now hopes to bring Munster to the next level.

Ryan Bailey reports from Thomond Park

JOHANN VAN GRAAN is going to enjoy his week off, the Munster head coach visibly emotional and mentally drained from his first two months in the job following his side’s demolition of Castres yesterday.

The South African will have the opportunity to take stock after a busy start to life in Limerick during the Six Nations break, before reconvening with his squad in preparation for the resumption of the Guinness Pro14.

Van Graan has won six out of his first nine games in charge and certainly qualification for the Champions Cup quarter-finals is a major box ticked, particularly when Sunday’s bonus-point victory secured home advantage against Toulon.

With the southern province also sitting in second place in Conference A of the Pro14, they are in relatively good shape heading into the business end of the season and Van Graan says it’s important now to re-adjust existing goals and set new ones.

“The first objective was to be well placed in the Pro14,” he said, when asked how he would measure his first nine weeks in the job. “We are second in our pool. We start with Zebre [10 February] and then we have Cardiff away. We have got Glasgow and then Edinburgh. So in terms of Pro14, I believe we are pretty well set.

“One of the things I got from Rassie was when he said, ‘they played so well throughout the year and then in May, they fell a bit short’. We are well set in the Pro14 and in terms of Champions Cup, Munster and Europe has a pretty special relationship, so for me as an individual, it is important we get through to the quarter finals. We knew yesterday it was make or break.

“And most important are the relationships with the people around me. I said from day one, ‘this is not about me’. I think relationships are well set. We as coaches will take an eagle view about our game and our players. We have set new goals for the guys who will stay behind for the next block of games. I will stay in touch with the Irish squad. I will learn a lot from Joe (Schmidt) and his coaches over the next few days and weeks and once we get back in a few days, we will re-adjust, set new goals. It is Zebre first.

“And again, a wider view to the quarter-final. It is a long way in the future. We will be looking to develop our game and keep our building blocks in place. Maybe the thing I am most proud of is, yes, we’ve been attacking very well but defensively to keep them [Castres] down to three in a game like this is a big positive from last week. Our set-piece fired tonight, our team fired tonight.”

Munster are moving in the right direction, and can now look forward to a mouth-watering quarter-final tie against three-time winners Toulon as they look to qualify for the last four for the second successive year.

James Cronin scores a try 21/1/2018 JVG was pleased with his side's set-piece against Castres. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Facing into a do-or-die scenario in the final pool game, Munster delivered their European best to run in six tries and safely progress as third seeds behind Leinster and Clermont — but, more significantly, secure home advantage for the last eight tie.

“It doesn’t matter who we play, one game at a time so once we started moving forward we said whatever happens now we will take whoever comes to Thomond Park,” Van Graan continued.

“I’ve read a bit about quarter-finals and home teams are in a very good spot to win it. Obviously with the home crowd, just to experience what again tonight what happened out there, the noise level, the way the people of Munster stick to this group of players and this team.

“So obviously it’s a lot easier to play at home. Imagine if we’d had to go to La Rochelle or Toulon or wherever. Like I said I don’t want to sound too clever. I’ve only been here a few weeks so it will be my first quarter-final, but I’m very, very happy that it’s at Thomond Park.”

This is all new territory for Van Graan, but he will come up against a few familiar faces when the expensively-assembled Toulon squad pitch up in Limerick in early April, with five South Africans in the Top 14 side’s ranks.

“There’ll be a lot of Saffers there as well,” one of Munster’s Springbok contingent, Jean Kleyn, said.

“I played a good couple of years with Duane Vermeulen. He was big role model of mine when I was younger, so it’s going to be interesting going up against him. Toulon are a fantastic side, very strong.”

Van Graan added: “I only saw a glimpse of their game against Scarlets, obviously I haven’t spent any amount of time on them.

“I know Duane very well, he’s a massive part of Toulon. I’ve coached a few guys who play there –Marcel van der Merwe, Juandré Kruger, Bryan Habana. They’re a quality side, they’ve been doing pretty well in Europe over the past few years.

“They’re an unbelievable team and brand, we look forward to that game. A quarter-final in Europe, it’ll be my first, I’m very glad it’s here at Thomond Park.

“But I’ll get a bit of distance from rugby now and enjoy tonight, get my thoughts in line and as a squad we’ll reconvene in a week’s time and go from there.”

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‘I’m very proud to be part of this club and that’s the reason why I came here’

Munster blow Castres away with rousing Thomond performance to progress

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