Embarrassment of riches a ‘great headache’ for Munster’s Johann van Graan

Every coach claims to enjoy having an embarrassment of riches and Munster’s Johann van Graan is no different. 

The South African faces a series of selection headaches heading into a massive two-month stretch for the province that includes four European Cup games and three interprovincials.

He has four international centres — Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Sammy Arnold and Rory Scannell — at his disposal, with Jaco Taute and Dan Goggin soon due to be available after injury.

That’s not to mention Tyler Bleyendaal who has been wearing the number 12 jersey with distinction in recent weeks.

It’s a cast that provides the kinds of dilemma van Graan insists he relishes.

“It’s brilliant, we’ve had a lot of injuries over the last 12 months, long-term injuries especially with our backs,” said van Graan. “Now it’s the first time that we have four available fit international centres and I can only pick three. That’s a great headache to have. We have a big block of nine games coming up and we need every single player available.

“We’re still a bit thin in the forwards, James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Jean Kleyn, Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue are still out.

“And let’s not forget Darren Sweetnam. Sweets has gone to see a specialist and his back injury could be serious.

“Everyone knows where they fit over the next nine weeks. You can only plan for so much and then reality happens and we might pick up a few injuries in one position and then you have to adapt. But we are pretty well set and I am very happy with where we are in both competitions, glad about the 10 points over the last few weeks. The most important thing for me is the depth available and it was really important the way the Academy guys came through against Cheetahs and Zebre.”

The return of Conor Murray has also delighted van Graan.

“It is great to have him back in the team, it just lifts the team. Once he got cleared a few weeks ago, it was important for him to find his confidence.”

Every player is the same. You want to get on the training field first and kinda get your confidence back. Luckily, he is a world class player and he found his confidence pretty quickly.

“I thought he had a very good 30 minutes over the weekend, good box kick first up on the right hand side, then that left field kick and then that last try, a brilliant pass in front of Rory Scannell. He even went in for a steal to show that the injury doesn’t sit in his head. He will either be on the bench or will start against Edinburgh on Friday.”

Van Graan also expressed his respect for Joe Schmidt’s decision to retire as Ireland coach after next year’s World Cup and for the appointment of Andy Farrell as his successor.

“Respect is the first word that comes up. Joe has been brilliant, but not so much for the results that he gained with his team, it is the way he conducted himself, the way he is perceived all over the rugby playing world.

“I believe it is a big loss for Irish rugby. Since I came in — even before I came in — the way the way he has handled me and the times we have spoken about the game and about decisions, the way he has welcomed me into the Irish camp and the Irish rugby family has been brilliant.

“I have known Andy (Farrell) for a while now. In 2013, when I started with South Africa, he started with England at the same time and we coached against each other for four years.

“When he came to Ireland, I was obviously still in South Africa. And when I came in with Munster last year, we didn’t have a defence coach and I got IRFU permission to have Andy in and he immediately said yes and we spent a bit of time together. I stay in touch with him frequently and I think it’s brilliant planning on the part of the IRFU to appoint someone of the quality of Andy Farrell.”

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