Here are five things he will have gleaned from the experience.
From Stand Up and Fight, through a heartfelt minute’s applause in memory of Anthony Foley to mark the first anniversary of the Munster legend’s untimely death, the incoming head coach will have learned a lot about what makes this province tick. Through the wind and the rain at Thomond Park on Saturday he will have seen that the support his new charges receive from the stands and terraces, the passion and encouragement that emanates from the crowd, can raise the stakes and lift the team, either out of a dip in momentum or to new heights.
Rassie Erasmus spoke afterwards in praise of his side’s guts and determination as they repelled a Racing pack that had the power, dynamism and size to overrun most European opponents, but van Graan will also have witnessed that Munster can provide some razzle-dazzle in the backline. Simon Zebo’s behind the back pass to the ultra-sharp Keith Earls may not have come off, but it is an indication of the full-back’s X factor, while Darren Sweetnam’s agility and finesse under the high ball proved invaluable in terrible weather. With a developing gameplan and an encouragement to offload in search of more variety in attack that the new man seems primed to continue, Munster fans are going to see a lot more width when the time is right, in addition to the forwards’ grunt in conditions such as Saturday’s.
The amount of chat on the field from a plethora of Munster players was indicative of a confident, assured and maturing group of players. Not just the usual suspects, British & Irish Lions trio Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Conor Murray, but from one to 15; from loosehead and man-of-the-match Dave Kilcoyne at scrum-time to Zebo at full-back. Van Graan is set to inherit a vocal, communicative squad strong on leadership and willing to stand up and be counted when momentum is in danger of slipping away and teams are putting them under the cosh.
After high penalty counts in recent games, where yellow cards, inaccuracy and poor decision-making has led to turnovers and cheap scores, Munster tightened up their act. In trying weather conditions against Racing, the Reds kept the tally to single figures, thereby denying opportunities for Dan Carter and his fellow Racing goal-kickers to rack up points in threes that Johnny Sexton had seized upon at the Aviva a fortnight earlier to put Leinster out of sight on the scoreboard.
One more concerning theme, however, is Munster’s set-piece woes from out of touch. Of the home side’s 18 throws, six were lost, four of them stolen by Racing. Having turned down kickable penalties in many instances, point- scoring opportunities were squandered, while an effective maul was taken out of the equation. As a coach who cut his teeth working with Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield at the Bulls, van Graan will want to see these problems sorted out, pronto.