The Irish province yesterday completed their search for Erasmus’s successor with South African Rugby confirming they had agreed to release 37-year-old Van Graan from his contract as Springboks forwards coach to allow him to accept the offer of his first post as a head coach, with a deal running for two and a half years until the summer of 2020.
He is expected to arrive in Ireland in mid-November, subject to work permit approval, and comes highly recommended, not least by outgoing Erasmus, who earlier this month expressed his wish to retain Van Graan on the South African union’s payroll when he eventually returns home to become his country’s first director of rugby.
His job title is head coach but Munster have made it clear Van Graan will assume all of Erasmus’s responsibilities and last night said there was no intention of installing a director of rugby above their new man, as they did when appointing of the outgoing boss to oversee then head coach, the late Anthony Foley, in April 2016.
Van Graan will initially work alongside the man he is to succeed to, in the province’s words, “ensure a seamless transition” before Erasmus eventually leaves to take up his new post.
After which it will, therefore, be Van Graan’s decision about whether he needs to
recruit a defence coach to
replace Jacques Nienaber, who is following his mentor Erasmus back to the SARU, both men leaving midway through three-year deals.
It is possible that IRFU performance director David Nucifora, who conducts all player negotiations, may have an increased role in Munster’s decision-making over contracts and recruitment as Van Graan settles in and learns the ropes but for now, the Australian was simply happy to have secured the South African’s signature.
“Johann is an exciting addition to our coaching team and we are delighted to welcome him to Irish rugby,” Nucifora said. “His track record with the Springboks and the Bulls, in Super Rugby, is impressive and we are confident he will use this experience, and more, to continue the progress in Munster Rugby.”
As it stands, Munster will have a coaching ticket headed by Van Graan with forwards coach Jerry Flannery and
attack and backs coach Felix Jones, all under the age of 40, although the new boss has much more coaching experience, spanning 69 Springboks Tests, having initially been recruited as a video analyst at the Bulls by Heyneke Meyer and helping them to three Super Rugby titles as forwards and attack coach. It was at the Bulls that Van Graan will have also worked with a young CJ Stander.
Munster Rugby chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald was certainly pleased to have concluded the second search for a top man in the last 18 months, Erasmus having become the province’s first director of rugby.
“After a worldwide search we are delighted to secure Johann van Graan,” Fitzgerald said. “Rugby was the focal point of this process and in Johann, we are getting a recognised rugby intellectual with a proven track record and extensive experience working with a national side.
“An analyst of the game, his technical ability and interpersonal skills have made him an integral member of the South African rugby landscape for over a decade, and it is now time for an ambitious Johann to make an impact in a new rugby environment.
“We know Johann, with forwards coach Jerry Flannery and backline and attack coach, Felix Jones, will continue to establish the structures and processes required to bring this Munster team forward in terms of growth and success.”
Van Graan issued two statements yesterday, the first through SA Rugby in which he expressed his gratitude to have worked with the Springboks on “an incredible journey”.
“But now I am looking forward with real excitement towards the next chapter of my life,” he said.
Through Munster Rugby’s announcement of his appointment yesterday, the South African added: “I am immensely excited and honoured to join Munster and to be part of a Club with a unique ethos and history dating back 138 years to 1879.
“Some of the words I associate with Munster Rugby are passion, excellence, ambition and integrity, and I feel very fortunate to be handed this opportunity. I am looking forward to working with the Munster players, support staff and supporters on this new journey, and to become part of their community.”
It will have been a bitter pill to swallow for under-pressure Springbok head coach, Allister Coetzee to have wished Van Graan well, given his enraged outburst when asked about Munster’s interest in his forwards coach after news first broke at the beginning of the month.
“Have you seen his contract? Has he signed anything? How can it be official?” a vexed Coetzee had responded. “What Munster say is hearsay, there is nothing
Nine days later, Coetzee was thanking Van Graan for his contribution to the national team.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working very closely with Johann for the past two seasons, he is a very good man and I know first-hand why he is so highly rated.
“He is highly competent, extremely hard working and his attention to detail is one of his great strengths. He has a great passion for coaching and I have no doubt that he has all the makings of a very good head coach. I want to wish him well in his new role.”