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'He loves Munster': Van Graan hopeful of future coaching role for Paul O'Connell

Van Graan and Paulie sat down last week to discuss the Ireland legend’s coaching ambitions.

O'Connell meets Paul Dean at Thursday's friendly between Ireland U20s and Leinster Development.
O'Connell meets Paul Dean at Thursday's friendly between Ireland U20s and Leinster Development.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

NEW MUNSTER COACH Johann van Graan is hopeful that Paul O’Connell will have a coaching role with the province at some stage in the future.

Van Graan said that he had sat down with O’Connell ahead of the announcement this week that the former Munster, Ireland and Lions captain was joining the Irish U20 management as an assistant coach.

“Paul and I had a coffee last week, had a fantastic chat about rugby, about Munster, about where he wants to go as a coach, about certain ways he can contribute to the current team.

“Possibly in the future, when the time is right, he might get involved or he might not. He wants to take it day by day. Coaching is definitely not something you do in a week. It’s a long-term thing so I am so glad he gets the opportunity to take the next step. He was with the academy last year and now he is with the U20s.

“We will keep in constant contact. I value his opinion and I asked him so many questions. So honest in the way he answered. He loves Munster and in whatever way is involved in the future.”

Van Graan said it was a huge boost for the current crop of national U20 players to have someone of O’Connell’s calibre come into their coaching team.

“Obviously. I mean being captain of Ireland, playing 100 Test matches, if I was an U20 player and Paul O’Connell was one of my coaches, I would embrace that. I would get as much info as I could possibly.”

Johann van Graan Van Graan. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Meanwhile, van Graan believes that French clubs will continue to target leading Irish players but he is confident that the current environment here will prevent them from going.

And while CJ Stander and Munster are adamant that discussions did not take place about him moving to France, van Graan can understand why the likes of him, Peter O’Mahony and others, are attractive to overseas clubs.

Van Graan said he does not think foreign interest in Irish players will decline after Stander and O’Mahony became the latest to commit their future at home.

“No, I don’t think so. Money is part and parcel of the game. What I do know is life is not always about money. Money is important but people need to be happy. People need to believe in something. People need to believe in a dream. Players and coaches need to be a part of a team because a team makes you feel good.

“The feeling we had in the changing room after that Leicester game you can’t describe. After putting everything in during the week and getting a result against top quality opposition, that’s the beauty of the game. And then coming in and enjoying yourself every day, that’s important.

“That’s why I am a big believer in environment first, a place where people can be themselves, live out their dreams, and come to work and smile. Where your work is where you spend so much time of every single day.

“We are going to hope to keep improving the environment in Munster. People are in a very good spot in all four provinces and the Irish team are a very happy team. It’s about improving and setting standards where players and coaches can improve. Hopefully we can offer that more than just money.”

Van Graan said it was a huge boost to have Stander and O’Mahony on board for the next three years.

“It’s a massive boost, a world-class player and fantastic individual. He puts his body on the line every single weekend. He delivered a fantastic performance on Sunday evening. To know that he is going to be at Munster for the next three years, not only as a player but in a leadership position, is great. If you want to be successful as a team you need big players available in the big games, and to have him available to us is great.”

CJ Stander Stander: new three-year deal. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Van Graan has enjoyed a great start to his Munster reign with the double Champions Cup wins over Leicester Tigers but his immediate impression is that Irish rugby is in rude health at the moment.

“Irish rugby is in a fantastic spot. The national team have been playing brilliant rugby for the past four or five years. Munster and Leinster were in the Champions Cup semi-finals last year and Munster played in the Pro14 final.

In the Champions Cup this year Ulster had a fantastic showing winning home and away against Harlequins, Leinster versus Exeter, and Munster versus Leicester. Connacht had a good home and away win as well.

“Quality players, it’s great that a lot of quality guys are not going to other parts of Europe, staying in Ireland. And it’s pretty evident that Irish rugby are doing a lot of things very well at this stage.”

The new Munster coach said he wasn’t aware of Ulster making a move to take JJ Hanrahan on loan and stressed that the versatile back, who returned to Munster during the summer after a couple of seasons with Northampton Saints, was very much part of his plans.

“I am not aware of any request at this stage. JJ is very much part of our plans. He is a quality player and will feature over the next 11 days. I don’t want to speculate or get into any sort of communication regarding that. He is part of our plans and our Munster 23. JJ is very much part of plans and important to us,” added the South African.

Another step in the transition as he takes over from Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienabar was completed with this weekend with fellow South African JP Ferreira arriving in Munster as defence coach, with Andy Farrell’s brief spell with the province coming to an end as he returns to national duty.

“JP arrived yesterday. Again, like myself, he’s flying into three interprovincial games. He’s been in constant contact with Andy Farrell and Jacques Nienaber.

“He’s just going to find his feet. This week it will be straight into the coaching. But luckily myself, Felix (Jones) and Fla (Jerry Flannery) have been here for a while now.

“We’ll just take it day-by-day but he’s straight in and he’s here this morning. He will start coaching from tomorrow.”

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