JOHANN VAN GRAAN says it is a given that he will see less of his frontline internationals throughout the course of the upcoming season as the IRFU tightens its player welfare policy ahead of next year’s World Cup.
The Munster head coach is preparing for his side’s opening pre-season fixture on Friday with a reduced group and isn’t expected to have any of the province’s Ireland players available for selection until later next month.
As many as 15 Munster players attended an Ireland mini-camp at Carton House over the weekend as Joe Schmidt’s squad reconvened for the first time after the summer tour of Australia.
Van Graan has been left to work with a small group of no more than 30 players for the first of Munster’s two friendly hit-outs against London Irish this Friday, and the South African expects to be largely picking from the same hand for their Pro14 opener against Cheetahs on 1 September.
“One of the biggest strengths of Irish rugby is the player welfare,” he said yesterday.
“Munster is part of that and we’re working towards that so we have a small pool of players that have trained for the seven weeks and we’re only going to focus on them for the warm-up games. We do want to try a few things with individuals.
“Going into the Cheetahs, one or two guys might drop into the team as the internationals that only returned two weeks ago, will only start joining us in week two, three, four, five and so forth.
“It’s also a World Cup year, so player management from Ireland will be pretty important. All credit to Joe [Schmidt] and David [Nucifora] and all of the Irish staff, we’ve been through all of that. Obviously Ireland’s important and Munster’s important too, so that communication has been brilliant.”
When asked if the international players will be managed further this season, van Graan added: “Yes, it’s a World Cup year. I think the good thing is that it’s the same for all four provinces. You know, they’ve got an extra Test match in November, they’ve got a Six Nations and they’ve got a preparation for the World Cup at the end of the season so I think the management will be key and the planning from our side will be key.
“Like I said before, the communication has been very good and we know what to plan for and hopefully injuries will be kind to us through the year and we’ve got to produce from our side as well.”
Will that not harm Munster’s chances of competing for silverware in the Pro14?
“We want all of our guys to be in the Irish team so the more players we can produce for Ireland the better. If some of them aren’t available for the Munster squad well, then we’ve just got to develop our players better at Munster.
“So I see it as a win-win on both sides. We might come up short in one or two areas in one or two games because you don’t have guys available but I’d rather take that challenge than have no guys on the Irish team.”
As a result, van Graan has been keen to include as many academy players into his first pre-season in Limerick as possible and identified the likes of Gavin and Liam Coombes, Shane Daly, Jack Daly and Alex McHenry as players who have impressed him this summer.
“The academy squad as a whole, we looked at that and we want to focus on quality and everyone who has trained with us have really impressed me,” he added.
“Obviously, some of them are a bit down the line and still very green in terms of their development, but the more they can train with us and the more we are aligned with them, hopefully the better players we can get through on the other side.”
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