Munster boss Johann van Graan has revealed he has sent his coaching staff around the world this summer to find the extra one per cent he believes is needed to make the province trophy winners once more.
Munster came up short in the semi-finals of both the Guinness PRO14 final and European Champions Cup last season, extending their time without silverware for another season, the 2011 Magners League being the last time a trophy has been raised by the southern province.
Head coach van Graan, who rounds out his first pre-season campaign since succeeding Rassie Erasmus last November with friendlies in Cork against London Irish this Friday and Exeter Chiefs seven days later, believes only small margins are preventing his side from ending the drought and to that end he and assistant coaches Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery spent time in the Southern Hemisphere during the close season in an effort to bridge the gap.
Forwards coach Flannery is understood to have spent time in Christchurch, New Zealand, with Super Rugby champions Crusaders, where his former Munster and Ireland team-mate Ronan O’Gara is an assistant coach, while attack coach Jones is understood to have spent time with another Kiwi Super Rugby franchise the Hurricanes, where Munster veteran Jason Holland is backs coach.
“Some of the coaches went to New Zealand, some went to South Africa, some of them went to Europe. We covered a lot of different areas. We didn’t just focus on-field, we focused on off-field; diet, sleep, recovery because the small margins are pretty important in this game,” van Graan said.
“We won a (Champions Cup) quarter-final (against Toulon) by one-point and lost a (PRO14) semi-final (to Leinster) by one point. I believe I’ve said it before, one point is the biggest and smallest margin in the world and we’re really looking for the one per cent.
Van Graan said pre-season had been spent “looking to redefine our processes and our game this summer” ahead of the PRO14 opening game against Cheetahs at Thomond Park on September 1, although Munster were still carrying quite a few injuries.
Fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal is still under medical supervision following the neck injury he suffered in February and also likely to miss the early part of the new season are centre Sammy Arnold (knee) and hooker Niall Scannell (shoulder) both of whom required respective minor procedures during the off-season, flankers Chris Cloete (groin), and Conor Oliver (toe) while centre Chris Farrell (knee), prop Liam O’Connor (knee), back row Jack O’Donoghue (knee), and wing Ronan O’Mahony (ankle) are all continuing to rehab longer-term injuries.
Stephen Archer (pectoral muscle), Jean Kleyn (ankle) and Tommy O’Donnell (shoulder) are all expected to be available for September 1 with O’Donnell one of a number of Munster players attending a 50-man two-day Ireland camp at Carton House this week.