Johann van Graan sees positives for Munster

Johann van Graan sees positives for Munster

Munster are just 240 minutes into the new season and already in those three games we have seen the full range of their ability to delight, frustrate, and infuriate.

So far, so usual from the men in red it may seem, yet break down those six halves of competitive Guinness PRO14 rugby and what the new-look 2018/19 squad has delivered can be roughly divided into three parts excellent, two parts encouraging if not productive, and one downright lousy 40-minute period.

It is a rough approximation and head coach Johann van Graan will argue the lousiness that saw a toothless Munster concede 22 first-half points in Glasgow in round two was confined to just the second 20-minute spell of the opening period at Scotstoun but either way, it left his side with a second-half mountain to climb that proved unscalable.

More importantly, as Munster prepare to travel to the Welsh capital on Friday to face Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park, van Graan’s players proved their mettle to rebound from that first-half in Scotland with a high-intensity performance last weekend in Cork to put Ospreys to the sword inside 45 minutes.

It was a display that restored the early-campaign momentum built across van Graan’s first pre-season in charge and into an opening-day demolition of the Cheetahs at Thomond Park.

This weekend’s visit to the Arms Park will help determine whether that momentum can translate into a first away win of the season and prove the first 40 in Scotstoun to have been a temporary blip on an upward curve.

The hope is the team can play with the heads-up attacking intent that was so impressive against a bewildered Ospreys last Friday.

The Welsh region, who had left its best players in Swansea as head coach Allen Clarke unwisely chose a trip to Cork to test his squad depth, found themselves trailing 42-6 after 45 minutes.

That Munster would only add a further seven points to the tally in a 49-13 win is where the frustration comes in, seven days on from a dominant second half against Glasgow that only produced 10 points in a 25-10 defeat.

That failure to convert possession and territory into points is not worrying van Graan just yet. The South African would rather be creating opportunities and wasting them than not manufacturing any at all and the gradual integration of new signings combined with the return of Munster’s Ireland contingent can only be a positive in that regard.

It was evidenced by a Joey Carbery-inspired attacking display and the bristling intensity from a pack spearheaded by captain Peter O’Mahony and fellow flanker Chris Cloete and energised by the license given to dynamic lock Tadhg Beirne.

It combined to deliver six tries in 45 minutes and with CJ Stander and Keith Earls expected to return to face Cardiff in their seasonal bows on Friday the work-rate, power, and cutting edge in attack should not fall off from that benchmark display.

It was certainly pleasing for van Graan to see his pre-season emphasis on raising the skill base across his squad — faculties that were found wanting last season — coming to fruition. Indeed after a steady-as-she-goes policy in the transition from Erasmus to his tenure last term, we are now seeing the former Springbok assistant coach’s imprint beginning to emerge.

“Yeah, it’s a team effort and everybody involved is working tirelessly to improve us,” van Graan said. “Some of the skill work is improving — that pass Darren O’Shea threw at the weekend, that’s an indication that the small things are working well.

“Some of the breakdown work, Mike Haley in a wide breakdown and we’re all of a sudden posing a threat.”

“Then the most impressive for me is our broken-field play. Arno (Botha) with his try, we went hard in defence, turned it over, quality passing, quick breakdown, and some good running lines.

“So we’re improving but it’s such a long season and we’d like to improve week by week. Everybody’s putting in the effort, small things like the kick-chase by Andrew Conway off the kick, making the tackle; Pete (O’Mahony) stealing it, two transfers by our props, good line by Chris (Cloete) and then a try by James Cronin. I think it’s the total game that we’re looking for and by no means are we there yet but it’s good signs.”

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