There was more than one reason for Alby Mathewson to welcome Johann van Graan’s decision to extend his term at Munster to June 2022.
Not only is the former All Blacks scrum-half a big fan of his head coach’s attention to detail, analytical mind, and positivity, Mathewson also reckons the longer van Graan hangs about, the better chance he has of staying at the Irish province.
Signed by van Graan as short-term cover for the injured Conor Murray, the 33-year-old has more than proven his worth to the squad once he got his chance after a month waiting for a work permit.
A couple of similarly short-term extensions have come the way of the former Super Rugby and Toulon star, capped four times by New Zealand, giving Mathewson a further run of certainty until the end of this autumn’s World Cup. With his head coach in for the long haul at Munster, the Kiwi has his fingers crossed that could bring some security to his situation.
“Exactly. He is here until 2022 so things could be looking good for me to stay ‘til 2022 as well,” Mathewson joked. “It’s nice to be around for a bit longer. I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here and it’s nice to be playing in a winning team, especially with finals footy coming up.”
Mathewson could well take centre stage in the Munster No.9 jersey for Friday night’s PRO14 clash with Benetton in Treviso as Murray is rested under player welfare rules and he feels van Graan, just seven years his senior, is bringing out the best in him.
“He’s been around the game for a long time. With the Bulls, he started really young, but his attention to detail I think … every single second of the match, he’ll analyse. He’s a great people person, getting to know every player and being very personal with them. I think it’s important in a team environment to have that relationship with players, not just a kind of business relationship but to actually get to know what makes guys tick.
“He’s a very positive coach but when he needs to crack the whip he does and that’s a good thing. He puts a lot of trust in players, puts a lot on the players in terms of game prep and that sort of thing and gets input from the internationals and across the squad in terms of how we want to play.”
Murray, too, is coming back to his best, the Kiwi said, following a pressurised Six Nations which saw the Patrickswell star come in for criticism as Ireland struggled for form after a stellar 2018.
“The whole Irish team probably got a bit of criticism,” Mathewson said. “It’s difficult, they came off beating the All Blacks, winning the Six Nations last year and the Australian Test series and came in as firm favourites in the Six Nations. It’s a big year with the World Cup but European rugby takes a lot out of you as well. I don’t know is it a bit of player burnout or what.
“Across the board they are obviously not happy with their form, but I think ‘Mur’ in the last few games for us and in Europe, is getting back to his best. Maybe for a lot of them they might be putting too much pressure on themselves to perform.
“I think ‘Mur’ is back enjoying playing with Munster and he is just back playing his game. He is back having fun playing. I think he is playing really well, so it’s good for us heading forward in the PRO14 and in Europe. And obviously for Ireland leading into the World Cup ...it’s not like he can’t play well, he has just got to relax and play his game.”