Munster coach Johann Van Graan has acknowledged the influence of fellow South Africans Johan and Ruan Ackermann on Gloucester, the side Munster face in Thomond Park tomorrow.
“I’ve never coached Ruan as a player, I only know Johan. JP [Ferreira] is very good friends with Johan. They were on the same management team for a very long time. They both went to two Super Rugby finals together so the two of them will know each other very well.
“Johan is a fantastic man, with a calming influence. He loves an attacking brand of rugby. You can see the different way that Gloucester have been playing over the last season. I believe a lot of it’s down to him. They always have their trick plays around the lineout.
He is just a good human being, a very good coach. I believe he has made a big different at Gloucester.
He continued: “[Ruan] didn’t play at the weekend, so I’m not sure if he’s available this weekend, but he is a very good ball carrier, an abrasive player. At the back end of last season, he was a very important player for Gloucester.”
As important as Tadhg Beirne for Munster? He was crucial for the province last weekend against Exeter, at lock, not in the back row.
“When he came to us, that’s why the first few weeks we kinda started him on the flanks, and started moving him to four. Then, once he was confident in our system, we moved him to five.
“He’s brought a bit of his own flavour as well, which is very important as a five lock. He’s growing each week. Well done to him, to run a pack, to call the lineouts and deliver a performance like that over the weekend was pretty special.
“That’s why we got him. I believe he is a potential world class player and I think he’s showing that over the last season-and-a-half. I think he got rewarded this week for his poaching and maybe not the week before.”
Van Graan felt Munster’s defence was “excellent” last weekend.
“To limit opposition like that to one try and at end, how many phases was that to keep them out? It’s character building from our side. You need that. The easy thing there is to concede a try and only one guy going out of system.
“We missed a few as well in that passage of play, but a lot of guys backed up and a lot of guys made big hits.
Rhys Marshall there, dropping to that kind of body height and forcing that turnover. CJ [Stander] made a massive hit and then JJ [Hanrahan] made a big hit and Joey [Carbery] made a big hit.
“That’s what it’s all about, moments like that. That one point could possibly turn out to be the defining point in this group, you never know.”
It’s too early to call it a defining point in the season, but he was encouraged by the players’ response to the pressure against Exeter.
“I knew there was quite a bit of noise outside that we would do well to only get one point. We believed that we could win the game. We went down there with that mindset.
“This is a very hungry and confident group of players. That’s what I said at the beginning of year. We are looking for an improved performance week by week and I felt that we got that over the last three weeks.”
He wants to continue that tomorrow against Gloucester: “It would be brilliant to use all of our opportunities in one game. We had an opportunity after about 10 minutes under their goal posts and then we knock on one ball. With three minutes to go, right in that left-hand corner, we conceded a penalty.
"Converting in that last part of — some teams call it the red zone, we call it something else, but for now, let’s call it the red zone — converting those opportunities in the red zone. You just have to look at all the European games, it’s small margins. Small margins win and lose you games.”