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'Loftus has been my home' - Van Graan makes emotional return to South Africa with Munster

Some of the province’s Ireland internationals are expected to fly in and link up with the squad for their second of two URC games.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

SOME OF MUNSTER’S Irish internationals are expected to fly to South Africa this weekend and link up with the squad for their second game there — against the Lions on Saturday week.

But first up is an emotional return to Loftus Versfeld stadium for Johann van Graan for a clash against his old side the Bulls, where he coached and where his father Barend worked for 35 years until he retired as CEO three years ago.

Van Graan has brought a 33-man squad to Pretoria with the likes of Simon Zebo and Gavin Coombes added to the squad after they were not required by Andy Farrell for the Argentina game.

“We’ll treat guys individually, see how they recover after the Test matches, look at certain minutes,” Van Graan said.” Simon and Gavin flew with us, we’ll see how our squad is on this side.

“We’re living in a time of Covid, which we have to take into consideration. There will definitely be certain players flying to South Africa next Saturday and arriving next Sunday. We might leave certain guys behind. Our focus is on the Bulls and we’ll see how we get through that game.

We’ve planned pretty well, we believe, with the cards have been given to us and now we’ve got to make the best of it and enjoy the two weeks in South Africa before we return to Ireland.”

Van Graan said it would be an emotional return to Loftus Versfeld for him but his primary task was to steer Munster to victory at a venue where the Bulls have not lost in three years.

rugby-union-lions-tour-sharks-v-british-and-irish-lions-loftus-versfeld-stadium-pretoria-south-africa-july-10-2021-general-view-inside-the-stadium-before-the-match-reuterssiphiwe-sibeko Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

“Loftus has been my home as a small boy, starting out as a ballboy there. Some phenomenal moments and Test matches that I had the privilege to be a ballboy at. In 1994, standing next to Andre Joubert and meeting Nelson Mandela, the Rugby World Cup in ’95 when Emile Ntamack scored against the Scots, when Philippe Sella passed me and looking in his eyes.

“Having Jonah Lomu run at Loftus when the All Blacks had their white jerseys, the ’98 Currie Cup win for the Blue Bulls, and starting to work at the Bulls officially on the 1 November 2003. The Currie Cup win 2004, Currie Cup loss in 2005, the semi-finals against the Crusaders specifically in 2007, 2009 and 2010. The highlight has to be the Chiefs final in 2009, when we beat them 61-17 at Loftus.

“The Springbok Test matches that I had the privilege to be involved in there, the first one was Australia in 2012, which was Johan Goosen’s debut that day, the Samoans in 2013, the last one was also against Australia in 2016, so phenomenal moments at Loftus, also the school right across the road, and full circle coming back with Munster, a club I’ve learned to love and call my home.

I’m from Munster now and great emotions to be part of it, from a team perspective it’s not about me,” he added.

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“It’s about Munster, the start of a new block, but personally great to come back to your home town and have some of the memories that I had the privilege of feeling. That’s the beauty of rugby, it’s the memories that you have out of it.”

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John Fallon

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