With the search to replace Erasmus, who is returning to South Africa to become his home union’s director of rugby, having narrowed to one chosen target, according to IRFU performance director David Nucifora last week, reports have suggested current Springbok forwards and attack coach Johann van Graan is the man in Munster’s sights.
Van Graan’s name emerged a day after fellow South African and the former head coach of the now- disbanded Western Force Dave Wessels apparently spurned Munster in favour of staying in Super Rugby with the Melbourne Rebels.
Yet if courting the out-of-work Wessels proved beyond Munster and the IRFU, luring a man under contract to the SARU will be more complicated.
That was a point emphasised by both Erasmus on Saturday following his side’s bonus-point win over Cardiff Blues, and Springboks head coach Allister Coetzee, who reacted with anger at the suggestion he was about to lose a key figure in his management set-up.
Hours after Munster’s 39-16 win at Thomond Park, Coetzee was speaking following his side’s 27-27 draw with Rugby Championship rivals Australia in Bloemfontein.
Responding to a question about van Graan’s reported move to Ireland, an annoyed Coetzee said: “Have you seen his contract? Has he signed anything? How can it be official? Has SA Rugby said something? There is nothing official.
“I don’t want to talk about Johann van Graan,” he added. “Johann van Graan has got no signed contract (with Munster). He’s a contracted assistant coach to SA Rugby and those are the facts.”
That Erasmus is expected to leave for South Africa and a post in effective charge of Coetzee as soon as his Munster replacement is secured adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Speaking as the Bloemfontein test was kicking off, Erasmus was admitting he would like van Graan to remain in the Springbok set-up and he would be surprised if the SARU were to release their highly-rated coach to join his current employers.
“Yes, I would be surprised,” he said. “Just because he is quality and he knows the system and everyone and the players really well. Coaching against him when he was at the Bulls was really tough. We struggled to win games because he has got such knowledge across all the different disciplines from lineouts to attack to defence.
“He’s a really sharp guy who eats, sleeps, and drinks rugby so I’m not sure if South Africa will release him.”
If Erasmus was already in situ at SARU, he would want van Graan in-house he said, “without a doubt”.
“Whenever (Munster) have asked me about a candidate, my only involvement is, they ask me, do I know the guy, and what I think of him. I’m not in the mix at all, that’s why I don’t know who the next guy is.
“But I can tell you, just like I vouched for Dave Wessels last time, his work ethic, knowledge, character, he’s a guy that’s been involved with teams and won two or three Super Rugby titles, he has been with the Springboks for six or seven years.
“That’s why I am saying it will be interesting (to see) if the Springboks let him go, if it is him. I can’t talk enough about this guy’s work ethic and knowledge of the game.
“He is someone that I would like to work with, with the Springboks. I’m not working there yet and to be honest with you, I don’t even have contact with the guys who are currently there because they are in the middle of the Rugby Championship and then they are going on their European tour. I’m not involved at all at this stage.”
Erasmus recognised keeping van Graan (36) in South Africa would be counter-productive if he wanted to take his first top job at Munster.
“Look, like what Munster are doing for me and giving me the opportunity to go back and work at that level — if a person’s dream is to come to Munster and become a head coach, which is a fantastic job and it’s a job where it maybe takes you to the next level.
“If that’s something that will make the club better and that person better, it would be stupid to stand in his way because he’s a young guy.
“In that regard I understand it but I also understand the big role he plays in the Springbok set-up.
“Luckily, it’s not my decision because I wouldn’t know what to do.”
Erasmus warning on road ahead for Reds
Rassie Erasmus has warned his players that despite a bonus-point win over Cardiff, a repeat performance against Leinster in Dublin next Saturday will not be good enough to beat their arch rivals.
Munster bounced back from a heavy defeat in Glasgow with this Thomond Park victory which saw British & Irish Lions Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Conor Murray make their seasonal debuts while JJ Hanrahan marked his first game back from Northampton with two tries off the bench in a standout 25-minute stint at full-back.
The five-try tally got their Guinness PRO14 campaign back on track but there are fresh injury concerns after centre Jaco Taute picked up a knee injury Erasmus believes is “serious” while wing/full-back Simon Zebo and lock Jean Kleyn are rated only 50/50 chances for Saturday.
What is more, a much stiffer test awaits at Aviva Stadium this weekend and Munster his side will have to be sharper at the breakdown and in defence if they are to win the first interpro derby of the season.
“That will not be good enough,” Erasmus said. “If we struggle for the first 15 minutes like we did against Cardiff a team like Leinster will punish us dearly. So it wasn’t good enough, everybody knows that.”
There are different dilemmas ahead for Erasmus at fly-half with Ian Keatley making the most of his start in place of the rested Tyler Bleyendaal with a man of the match performance highlighted by two penalties and four conversions with just one miss, from the touchline, off the tee.
Add to that JJ Hanrahan’s successful second-half cameo at 15 and Erasmus has no obvious first-choice 10, though Taute’s injury may force one of them deeper into midfield.
“(Hanrahan) did have a great performance and it was from full-back but I feel he was almost like playing as a fly-half, on the different sides (of the ruck), running off guys. He’s a great distributor, he has a great feel for the game.” I think we are going to needthose guys, Keats and Tyler and JJ and maybe somewhere Bill Johnston also.
“Last year when it got to May we were really thin on numbers so at this stage it’s good to have those guys in.
“Keatley’s performance was really solid... All respect to Leinster, we won’t underestimate them because they’re too good, but before we go into Europe we might have to try one or two things next week, which wouldn’t be disrespectful. We’re not 100 per cent sure yet but with Jaco out we will have to play around a little bit.”
A Conway (JJ Hanrahan, 55); D Sweetnam, J Taute (C Farrell, 19), R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams, 72); D Kilcoyne (L O’Connor, 71), N Scannell (R Marshall, 56), J Ryan (S Archer, 61); R Copeland (M Flanagan, 70), B Holland; P O’Mahony, capt (S McCarthy, 74), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
R Williams (M Morgan, 61); B Scully, capt, J Roberts (S Shingler, 13), W Halaholo, T James (K Assiratti, 48-59); J Evans, T Williams (L Williams, 71); B Thyer (C Domachowski, 70), M Rees (E Lewis, 63), T Filise (K Assiratti, 59); G Earle (S Davies, 63), J Down; J Turnbull, O Robinson, N Williams (M Cook, 61).
Quinton Immelman (South Africa)