Johann van Graan is hopeful his decision to stay on as Munster boss beyond his current contract can give the province the sort of stability that has propelled the likes of Saracens and the All Blacks to long-term and sustained success.
There was more to the two-year contract extension announced by Munster Rugby yesterday for head coach van Graan than a vote of confidence in the South African’s abilities to lead the province until June 2022.
After seasons of upheaval and short-termism at management level, Munster players finally have the stability to succeed now they have a head coach to provide continuity beyond his initial term at the helm.
It was in November 2017 that van Graan filled the breach left by his fellow South African Rassie Erasmus and took charge of Munster in his first appointment as a professional head coach.
Just 17 months later, with European qualification for next season, a Guinness PRO14 play-off place already in the bag and a second European semi-final appearance coming in 11 days’ time, van Graan is being seen as the man to take Munster to the next level, his capture in the face of interest from other European clubs and, it was speculated, his native South Africa, hailed by acting chief executive Phillip Quinn as a “statement of intent from the province”.
Allied to a string of recent player contract announcements with Conor Murray, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Tyler Bleyendaal, Jean Kleyn, John Ryan, and Joey Carbery all committing to the province in deals signed this season, Munster also have the buy-in on which to build the stable framework necessary to win silverware for the first time since their Magners’ League title in 2011.
That was won during Tony McGahan’s tenure as head coach and since his departure in 2012 there has been little stability.
Rob Penney declined his option for a third year in charge, Anthony Foley had Erasmus installed over him as a director of rugby after two difficult seasons as the main man and his new boss had only been in his post for 10 months before he handed his notice into the IRFU, quitting after just 17 months in November 2017.
Van Graan yesterday recognised the benefits of hanging around when discussing his newly-inked contract extension.
“I think continuity in all sport is very important,” the head coach said. “I think that is something that Munster would like at this stage, continuity with their management, continuity with their coaching staff, and continuity with their players.
“I think it’s brilliant that so many of the guys that we wanted to keep at Munster Rugby have signed on so early. For myself, I’m very privileged and very happy to stay here for another few years. Hopefully, we can get value out of that continuity for everyone involved in Munster Rugby.
If you look at, let’s call it the top teams in the rugby world, it’s teams with a lot of continuity and we’ve still got a long way to get to the likes of Saracens in terms of continuity. It seems like the All Blacks are a great example of what can be achieved when coaches and players stick along for a long time. A lot of things stay the same and a lot of teams can evolve together.
“From the first day, this is definitely not about me, it’s about the club and about the people and I’m grateful and thankful for all the people at Munster Rugby from players, coaches, management and supporters, it’s a brilliant club to be part of.”
With van Graan now locked in, Munster’s next task is to tie down his assistants with forwards coach Jerry Flannery and attack coach Felix Jones out of contract this June.
“I think we have worked very well together, Jerry and JP (Ferreira, defence coach) and Felix and I. That will be one of the next steps in the process. As soon as we have got something to announce we will do that. We’re also looking forward to the future, we need to keep improving and we need to keep evolving.
“Hopefully, in the next few years, we can keep continuity number one, but also bring in people that can add value. I think it’s one of the things of professional sport, you can’t keep in the same spot too long because other teams will pass you. You have just got to keep moving.”
To that end, bringing in additional coaches to his staff was not ruled out by van Graan who added: “There are a lot of possibilities down the line, I think the first important thing for Munster Rugby was to decide who their coach was going to be for the next few years. We’ll look towards the future now.”
Similarly, van Graan promised that player recruitment for next season was also well advanced with new signings to be announced in addition to the arrival of Leinster scrum-half Nick McCarthy this summer.