Van Graan: Coaching recruits will have attacking emphasis

Jack O'Donoghue, left, gets assistance with his GPS device from team-mate Joey Carbery prior to Munster Rugby squad training at the University of Limerick in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Johann van Graan has hinted any additions to his coaching team will have an emphasis on bolstering Munster’s attacking threat.

The Munster head coach has committed his future to the province beyond his initial two-and-a-half year contract to June 2022 and wants his existing assistant coaches to continue beyond their current deals. Forwards coach Jerry Flannery and backline and attack coach Felix Jones are both out of contract at the end of this season.

Yet with the present, four-year World Cup cycle coming to an end this autumn, van Graan expects the global game to shift focus from defence to attack as Test teams begin planning for France 2023 and that will mean a trickle down to the clubs. In order to gear up for that potential outcome, the South African wants to bring in additional expertise to augment Jones’ well-regarded approach, which is regarded as a work in progress.

Van Graan emphasised both Jones and Flannery remain crucial members of his coaching staff, along with defence coach JP Ferreira, and said:

We are in the process of sorting out our own staff first. I said over the last three weeks, it is crucial for me that we keep all of our staff within Munster and then possibly add somebody from the outside. As soon as we’ve got any news we will make an announcement.

Speaking yesterday as Munster began preparing for this Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 quarter-final with Benetton at Thomond Park, van Graan added: “I think we can improve in all areas of the game. It is not the time to speak about it now, we can speak about it post-season but I think the game has moved forward again so much over the last year, you’ve just got to look at World Cup cycles.

“After the World Cups mostly the attack gets favoured and the closer it gets to a World Cup, defence seems to be on top.

"You’ve just got to look at the game of rugby at this stage, look at what happened in the Six Nations, look what happened in the two (European) semi-finals, it’s pressure games, it’s aerial game, it’s field position and after World Cups, it seems to be more of an attacking game. Maybe that is an indication as to where, I believe, the game is going.”

Munster’s immediate focus is on their bid for a first piece of silverware since 2011, and van Graan was given a considerable boost in that push, starting this Saturday against first-time play-off qualifiers Benetton, with the news injured Ireland backs Joey

Carbery, Keith Earls, and Conor Murray were set to return to training this week with the hope they would be available to face the Italians in Limerick. Scrum-half Murray was withdrawn with a stiff neck prior to kick-off against Connacht last Saturday but was cleared to train yesterday.

Wing Earls suffered a thigh strain on April 5 while fly-half Carbery suffered a hamstring injury on March 30 but both will resume team training today.

“He’s good to go, good to train,” van Graan said of Murray. “He was assessed by the medical team, obviously we took a view on Saturday that it was not worth the risk of playing him.

“He wanted to play but we made a decision not to, which was the right call. His health and safety, like with all players, comes first.

We had a thorough investigation by the medical team and he’s ready to train this afternoon.

Given Murray’s late start to the campaign in late November was due to a neck injury, van Graan’s caution was understandable.

“You make the right call for the team and the right call for an individual. It’s the same for every player. I’ve said it before that you treat players like you hope people will treat your boys someday.

“It was the right call for him and the right call for the team. Luckily for all of us, it was more of a scare and it’s great to have him back on the training field this afternoon.”

The Munster boss also gave a positive if slightly more cautious update on Carbery and Earls. “They’re both back to training tomorrow afternoon,” van Graan said.

“They haven’t trained with the team in a team environment as of yet but hopefully they’ll get through tomorrow and get through Thursday. We’ll make a call on Thursday and if they come through training, both will be available for selection on Saturday.”

Having missed out on a home semi-final, Munster have been mobilising their efforts to attract a healthy crowd to Thomond Park for this Saturday afternoon’s quarter-final. Adults buying a ticket on their website have the chance to also order two junior tickets free of charge for the Benetton game.

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