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'He said it's very difficult' - Matfield offers insight into Van Graan's decision to leave Munster

The Springbok legend’s comments initially reached Ireland only in tweet form, leading the Munster boss to dismiss them off-hand following victory over Ulster.

Victor Matfield speaking on SuperSport.
Victor Matfield speaking on SuperSport.

WHETHER OR NOT he was supposed to divulge on television the contents of a recent conversation with Johann Graan, Victor Matfield perked the ears — or, more accurately, drew the eyes — of Irish rugby fans during a South African broadcast of Munster versus Ulster on Saturday night.

The channel on which Matfield is a pundit, SuperSport, is unavailable in Ireland, and so the Springbok legend’s recap of his personal chat with the departing Munster boss reached Ireland firstly in the form of tweets posted by viewers in South Africa.

Those tweets — one of which quoted Matfield as saying the Bath-bound Van Graan had grown frustrated that ‘all the good players go to Leinster’, and another which cited David Nucifora’s influence on his day job — were dismissed off-hand by Van Graan himself following 14-man Munster’s gutsy comeback victory at Thomond Park.

“I am certainly not going to react to Twitter conversations,” Van Graan said. “I don’t even have Twitter.”

However, Matfield’s words were indeed part of a real-life conversation from which SuperSport have since published the footage.

“I spoke to Johann van Graan and, for him, it’s very difficult,” Matfield said in studio, where he was working alongside presenter Owen Nkumane and fellow pundits Gcobani Bobo and Nick Mallett.

For him, his pack is very important; his tight five. So, he brought in RG Snyman, he brought in [Jason] Jenkins — both of them out. So, there’s two big South African guys that he thought were going to give him that power game — especially the way he wants to play — not there. So, he’s not getting that go-forward from that tight five that he was thinking he would get. So, very difficult at the moment.

On his conversation with Van Graan about his move to Bath, Matfield said:

He’s excited. Look, he feels bad because he really enjoyed his time at Munster. He loves the people there. But he said it’s very difficult, he said… All the great players go to Leinster. So, he has to compete [with that], he comes second in every competition but he doesn’t win trophies, Leinster have got this amazing team… And again, financially, he’s trying to [sign] the guys from outside to make a difference.

“The local players, most of them, go to Leinster,” Matfield reiterated, likely alluding to the IRFU’s reliance on the schools pathway and Leinster’s natural advantages on that front. “So, it’s very hard.”

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johann-van-graan Johann van Graan at Munster training yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Throughout the piece, Matfield appeared to vaguely hint at Van Graan being frustrated with a lack of autonomy at Munster relative to that which he should be granted in England. “Going to Bath”, the former Springbok said, “he will get opportunities to build a squad — and that’s what he likes. He wants to build a squad, get people in, get something for four, five, six years and build something amazing in Bath.”

Asked if he got the sense that Van Graan has ‘grown’ as a coach after four years at Munster, Matfield began by saying that his fellow South African “gets a lot from how Ireland run the whole system, as well”.

“He’s almost under the director of Irish rugby (David Nucifora). He (Nucifora) actually controls everything, understand. He controls everything.

“And as well”, Matfield added, “he’s got some great coaches with him. He’s got a great, experienced English coach (Graham Rowntree), he’s got [Stephen] Larkham — different style. So, yeah, he’s grown a lot and I think he’s one of the great young coaches in South Africa that will come back at some stage and hopefully coach the Springboks.”

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