Johann van Graan had a dozen reasons to celebrate a productive start to a Heineken Champions Cup week yesterday as Munster announced the signing of 12 contract extensions.
The Munster boss further advanced his plans for next season and beyond by securing the futures of a dozen players, five of them capped by Ireland, in addition to business completed earlier in the season when tying down Conor Murray, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, and Jean Kleyn.
Yesterday saw John Ryan, Niall Scannell, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam, Jack O’Donoghue, JJ Hanrahan, Alex Wootton, Fineen Wycherley, Calvin Nash, Rhys Marshall, Arno Botha, and Jeremy Loughman, ink new deals.
For van Graan, 12 months on from succeeding fellow South African Rassie Erasmus in the Munster hotseat, it is an endorsement of his vision for the province as it resumes its European campaign on Sunday at home to Castres.
“I said last year the first time I met the players as a group ‘you have to always, always, always be yourself, fit into the team and we as a team want to take the club forward’ and I believe we have done so over the last year,” van Graan said yesterday.
“It’s brilliant for a coach and the organisation that so many quality players are staying on.”
Tighthead prop Ryan signed a three-year deal. The Scannells, Sweetnam, O’Donoghue, Hanrahan, Wootton, Marshall, Wycherley and Nash each signed two-year extensions, committing to the province until at least June 2021, while Botha and Loughman have signed one-year extensions through to June 2020.
Loosehead prop Loughman was also yesterday promoted to Munster’s Champions Cup squad, replacing the injured and now deregistered James Cronin. Earls, who in October committed his future to June 2021, welcomed his team-mates’ decisions to buy into van Graan’s project.
“It’s great, especially given there are a lot of young lads as well,” Earls said. “The Scannells and Arno who’s come in and been great for us.
“The start of the season I think there were 26 lads looking for a contract, which was huge and probably gave Johann an awful pain in his head that he had a massive amount looking to re-sign again. The commitment is brilliant, it just shows that we are building a squad to move on to great things hopefully. There’s a good bunch of them there that are homegrown, which is brilliant. This is where they want to be. Conor (Murray) signing up as well is brilliant. He’s the best player in the world and he wants to play his rugby here and win trophies here which is a massive boost for us.”
Sweetnam has been ruled out of this Sunday’s Pool 2 clash against the French champions with a back injury, although van Graan reported: “Sweets’ injury scan came back and it seems that it is not going to be long-term, it’s going to be treated week by week. He is definitely not going to be available for selection this week.”
Munster are hopeful both wing Conway (knee contusion) and full-back Mike Haley (suspected concussion) will both prove their fitness in time to be considered for selection to face Castres but Stephen Archer has been unable to train due to illness.