influential figure | 

Why leave Munster for Bath? Johann van Graan refuses to shed light on contact U-turn

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O’Connor

At the end of Johann van Graan’s press conference yesterday, we were none the wiser about his reasons for signing a new Munster contract in August and then invoking a clause in the same deal to move to Bath four months later.

His repeated assertions about how much he loves the province are at odds with his decision to trade in his red tracksuit for a blue one and leave a team that is regularly competing for honours for a side at the bottom of the Premiership.

Bath confirmed the South African will be joining in the summer, but that wasn’t something he was willing to get into.

The English club have vast resources and an impeccable training facility, but it’s been a long time since any coach has been able to harness the fruits of Bruce Craig’s largesse into a successful team.

For now, we can only speculate as to why he has taken the leap. Asked about whether he’s done a good job in his four years in Limerick, he said he’d give his assessment closer to his exit. Would he like a trophy to take with him? “Again, I’m not going to answer that one”.

He wouldn’t say if he was happy with the backing he’s received, nor would he say if any of his assistants would make a good replacement. By the time we logged off the call, the picture was no clearer.

Van Graan spoke of his love for the province, talked about his daughter being born in Ireland and of his focus on finishing the season well. And yet, the unanswered questions will linger .

Chiefly, what are Munster fans to make of their head coach deciding to leave for a club in the doldrums?

“Munster Rugby are one of the very proud clubs in world rugby,” he said. “I’ve said it from day one, it’s not about me. I’ve joined a province and a club that I’m extremely proud of, and to have represented. I’m extremely proud to be the coach of Munster Rugby.

“Again, I’m not going to give any message at this stage. All I would say is that I took my time, I took a step backwards, I looked at my personal position and that of my family and what I think is the best for Munster Rugby and I’ll be moving on at the end of the season.”

Although he didn’t hold the title of director of rugby, Van Graan was an influential figure in building the Munster squad. He made decisions about recruitment and contracts, while others handled the negotiations.

There are some massive decisions to be made. All three Springboks, RG Snyman, Damian de Allende and Jason Jenkins, are out of contract at the end of the season and Van Graan was key to their recruitment.

All three are expected to depart and the man who would normally be there to convince them otherwise will understandably be more concerned about how the Bath squad is looking for 2022/’23.

“The process continues,” he said. “I’m still the coach of Munster Rugby until the end of June. None of my roles and responsibilities change. I’m doing my very best for Munster Rugby until the day that I leave.

“So in terms of the people involved, in terms of who’s doing contracting, who’s doing talent scouting, nothing changes. We are very well aligned with the IRFU in that regard, between myself Ian Costello, Colm McMahon, nothing changes until the day that I finish up.”

Munster left Coventry last Sunday with a remarkable sense of momentum forged in a performance of huge quality, delivered in the strangest circumstances.

By Tuesday, they were back in fire-fighting mode thanks to the coach’s decision, as Ireland prop Dave Kilcoyne spoke of the disappointment.

“No, not at all. Every game’s different,” Van Graan said when asked if his decision could be a destabilising factor. “It’s important to note that last Sunday was such a unique experience.

“Now, it’s a six-day turnaround, you’ve got staff coming back, you’ve got coaches coming back, you’ve got players coming back so just to give you a simple example, you’ve got Patrick Campbell that made his debut, played phenomenally well, that’s his first game at that level so he’s learned a lot but, emotionally, that takes a lot.

“You’ve got Dave Kilcoyne, who hasn’t played any minutes of rugby since the Connacht game eight weeks ago so you can ask him how his body is after that.

“Then you’ve got guys coming back who have literally been sitting in hotel rooms, so the reason why I said that is we won’t replicate the emotional energy that we did on Sunday because it was such a unique occasion.

“We all rise. We’ve got a mantra at the club: ‘we rise by lifting each other’ and we certainly did last Sunday.

“The reason why I say that is in terms of (being) destabilised, now it’s a new focus and we’ve had some spicy games against Castres.

“This will be an Irish/French affair and it will be spicy. It’s two teams that know each other very well in Europe so that’s our focus for the week.”

Thomond Park will have 20,000 people in it for the first time in a long time. Time will tell if the week’s events will work out for either party, but for now the coach is keeping his cards close to his chest.

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