Brian O’Driscoll believes Munster’s possible appointment of South African Johann van Graan as its new director of rugby is a leap of faith in the judgement of outgoing boss Rassie Erasmus.
Both Munster and the South African Rugby Union, van Graan’s current employers, were remaining tight-lipped yesterday with the Irish province stating that there was nothing further to add to IRFU performance director David Nucifora’s pronouncements on the matter on Tuesday that negotiations with an unnamed chosen candidate were well advanced but not finalised.
Yet reports of Van Graan’s imminent appointment have gained credence in his native South Africa with indications that he would be leaving his posts as Springboks’ assistant and forwards coach at the end of the current Rugby Championship.
Van Graan, 36, and the Boks were in Bloemfontein this morning for the penultimate game of the championship against Australia, with former Ireland captain O’Driscoll last night likening the prospective Munster boss to the arrival of current Wallabies’ head coach Michael Cheika at Leinster in 2005.
If van Graan is the chosen one, it will be his first job at the head of a coaching ticket, having been brought into the Springboks management group by former head coach Heyneke Meyer after joining the Bulls as a video analyst.
Talking on Newstalk’s Off The Ball last night O’Driscoll said Munster will need its emerging group of senior players, led by captain Peter O’Mahony, to step up to the plate as the new man beds in, initially alongside Erasmus, who is due to depart at the end of December.
“Rassie’s obviously giving them a proper steer,” O’Driscoll said. “This guy, for whatever reason, wants away from South African rugby as Rassie’s going into it, he wants to now see himself as a number one guy. He’s been assistant for a while.
“I saw the comments that Heyneke Meyer has said about the detail that this guy has gone into in the past, putting together strategy and game plans with South Africa. He brought him in and took a big risk on him but he said it’s a risk that’s really paid off.
“So a high-calibre coach like him speaks very highly of him. Rassie’s not going to let him go into Munster if he isn’t a top-quality individual and can do great things.
“I think maybe he’s a Michael Cheika-type character. He’s even got more on his CV than Michael Cheika did when he came in (to Leinster), he came via Randwick. So this guy has gone under the radar but obviously he’s very highly thought of, so maybe he’ll be a great fit.
“Picking up on the same philosophies as Rassie, the transition will actually be more seamless because they’re similar in personality but I’ll be interested to see what ideas he has and whether they are in alignment with Rassie.”
The transition period will no doubt benefit from having an incoming boss well known to Erasmus but coming in mid-season and into a culture at Munster in which the outgoing director of rugby has fostered a player-driven environment places an onus of responsibility on the senior members of the squad led by captain O’Mahony to make it work.
“The best teams are the ones that are driven by their senior players,” O’Driscoll said. “They’re largely player-driven, not to say that there wasn’t good coaching in aspects that were added to that pot but you have to have key individuals driving it because you’re the ones making the decisions out on the pitch.
“You can’t have a coach hold your hand out there. So, yes, it is a big year for Conor Murray, and for CJ (Stander) and for Pete O’Mahony, for Zebo, because now they’re not the young lads anymore, where you get away with so much as a young man. Now they have to start driving that ship and with bringing a new coach in he’s got to love the ideas of what Rassie’s doing because it’s mid-season and you can’t change your policy halfway through, before rounds five and six of Europe. It’s got to be seamless.
“I don’t know Rassie particularly well, I see him talk in post-match interviews, he’s an impressive person. Listening to the lads, they really like him, so you I’d say they’re going to take a big punt on his interpretation of what this guy is going to be like and how he’ll be a good fit for Munster.”
Erasmus yesterday named O’Mahony and fellow 2017 British & Irish Lions Stander and Murray in the Munster starting XV for today’s Guinness PRO14 clash with Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park (1:30pm).
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