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Dublin: 2°C Monday 1 March 2021

'Certain opposition brings a certain vibe' - Van Graan ready for Thomond bow against Munster's old foes

“This is a big game and one I’m looking forward to very much.”

Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

NEW MUNSTER HEAD coach Johann van Graan reckons Champions Cup week is like preparing for an international game.

The former South African forwards coach will get his first taste of being in charge for a European game when the province host Leicester Tigers at Thomond Park on Saturday.

It’s the first of the pivotal back-to-back games and the former Springbok assistant is thrilled to finally be involved in such a big occasion.

Munster hammered Leicester 38-0 in this fixture last year but van Graan knows this will be a much tougher outing for his new side.

“It’s strange. It’s like certain Test matches that I’ve been involved with, certain opposition brings a certain vibe,” said van Graan.

“On Monday morning when I walked into the auditorium with all the players there, you could feel a different vibe than last week. All the international players are back as well and everybody knows that this is a big game in a very tightly contested pool.

“I’ve read about Munster versus Leicester in the past. I did a bit of research on the two games last year and more of the big picture stuff about what’s happening off the field and the way that the people react.

“This is a big game and one I’m looking forward to very much.”

Munster and Leicester are joint top of their pool, but the hosts come into this game on the back of a resounding 36-10 bonus-point win over Ospreys in the league last weekend.

Openside flanker Chris Cloete (26) scored his first try in an impressive performance and van Graan believes that Munster have unearthed a gem, in his fellow countryman.

Felix Jones, Johann van Graan and Jerry Flannery Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“The first thing is his speed. He’s very quick for an openside, you see him running in the warm-up. Aled Walters (Munster’s head of athletic performance) had him run with the forwards last week and after one sprint he put him out there with the backs,” said van Graan.

“His decision-making at the breakdown is very good and because he’s quite a short guy he’s very difficult to move once he gets onto the ball. He’s a very strong ball carrier. He doesn’t look that big but if you look at his legs, he pumps them.

“Work rate, we’re going to look to up his fitness. He brings a lot of balance to our loose forwards. He’s an out-and-out openside and I believe he’ll add a lot of value to Munster in the coming years.”

Sam Arnold scored the first try for Munster last weekend, and his midfield partnership with Rory Scannell could be crucial over the next couple of weeks.

The former Ireland underage star suffered a knee injury last season but has bounced back in 2017-18 with three tries in as many Pro14 appearances.

“He did very well against Zebre, the first time that I saw him play, and we were very, very impressed with him over the weekend,” van Graan continued.

“Some of the lines that he ran, some of his defensive efforts and one thing we want to focus on is the work off the ball.

“He’s been fantastic in that. He’s a young guy that just wants to learn and hopefully he’ll have a few experienced guys around him as well.

“So if he starts at 13 I’m very much looking forward to seeing him play.”

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Daragh Small

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