He may only be in week two of his tenure as head coach having succeeded fellow South African Rassie Erasmus but as van Graan, 37, faces into his first game holding the reins, when Munster play Ospreys in Cork on Saturday evening, he has already made a strong impression on his new charges.
A watching brief last week as assistants Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery, and lead analyst George Murray, took control for the Guinness PRO14 trip to Zebre provided van Graan with a positive start to his two-and-a-half season contract as Munster left Italy with a bonus-point victory. Then, having assumed full control on Monday, the former Springboks assistant coach got down to brass tacks with a full squad meeting at the province’s High Performance Centre in Limerick that continued the good vibe, according to back-rower Jack O’Donoghue.
“We had a great meeting, the whole squad, all contracted players, the management,” O’Donoghue said. “We had a good chat today and he gave great insight into what he believes in, about how we need to progress, going forward.
“Him and Rassie, they would have known each other and the gameplan is going to stay very much the same and he is not going to come in and change everything. But there might be one or two slight changes. But going forward, for the remainder of this season, he is very happy with the way things are going.”
Yet while Munster will be aiming for a seamless transition from one regime to the next in terms of gameplan, O’Donoghue said the incoming boss is determined to give every player a fair shake with reputations kept in the rear-view mirror.
“It is a fresh start for us and Johann made that point earlier: that we all start on zero. No one is up on a pedestal or anything like that. Everyone is on a level playing field and some players need that in order to get their season off and running again.
“There is great excitement around. Everyone is trying to put their front foot forward. They are trying to showcase what they can do, be it in training, the match, and there always is that excitement when a new face comes in. People are eager to impress. There is a good buzz around the place.”
The changes at the top were something of a welcome distraction for the 23-year-old from Waterford following a month in which he found himself on the outside looking in to an Ireland Test camp. A year on from a Test debut starting at No.8 alongside flankers Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien in the 52-21 victory over Canada, and with only 17 minutes of game time off the bench against Japanlast June, O’Donoghue was overlooked by head coach Joe Schmidt for Ireland’s autumn Guinness Series. He is determined to look positively on the decision, insisting it gave him valuable time in a Munster jersey after an injury-hit start to the campaign.
“There was that bit of frustration not being involved with Ireland in the November series, but that frustration leads to motivation in these upcoming block of gamess: to try and prove to Joe and the Ireland selectors that they maybe made a wrong decision and you should have been involved.
“There was the chance to get some game time which I probably lacked in the last month. I have put in two nearly 80 minutes under my belt now and if I could get another one this weekend then I would really be in a good place, heading into Europe.”