Johann van Graan has repeated his desire to bring in additional staff to the Munster coaching ticket but refused to comment on media reports linking the province to Wales and Lions attack coach Rob Howley.
Howley, 49, was part of Warren Gatland’s Welsh Grand Slam-winning staff and has helped his boss engineer two successful Lions tours, the 2013 series win in Australia and the drawn 2017 series in New Zealand.
Reports emerged yesterday that Howley had already been interviewed by Munster for the role of senior attack coach. That followed on from head coach van Graan’s comments Monday he wished to add to his existing coaching staff. Talking last Monday about how he expected the game to become more attack-minded as a reaction to current defensive dominance after this autumn’s World Cup, the inference was that he was looking for additional attack experience and Howley, 49, would certainly tick that box to work aside current backline coach Felix Jones.
Van Graan was in Dublin yesterday for the Guinness PRO14 Awards, a day after Munster secured their place in the league’s semi-finals with a narrow, tryless win at Thomond Park over first-time play-off qualifiers Benetton, whose head coach Kieran Crowley was voted the Guinness PRO14 Coach of the Season by his fellow coaches.
During a media session with the PRO14 semi-finalists prior to the awards ceremony, van Graan was asked to clarify his comments earlier in the week but replied: “I’m not going to comment on it anymore. If you just go to what I said on
Monday, I said we are going to bring in another coach and as soon as I know we’ll make an announcement. And I said that we need to improve in all areas of the game.”
Speaking specifically of the Howley link, the Munster boss said: “There’s so many coaches all over the world. I’ve been asked previously about other names as well so I’m not going to comment. I just spoke (on Monday) about where the game is currently.”
Munster now face a tough trip to Leinster for their PRO14 semi-final on May 18, a return to the RDS where van Graan’s side were beaten by Leo Cullen’s eventual European and PRO14 double winners 16-15 a year ago.
The defending champions, who Saturday meet Saracens in the Champions Cup final in Newcastle, revealed yesterday that they hoped Ireland back-rower Josh van der Flier would be available to face Munster in 12 days, five weeks ahead of schedule following surgery on what was thought to be a season-ending groin
injury. Speaking yesterday, van der Flier said of potentially facing Munster: “Hoping to, that’s what I’m aiming for, I’ve a good bit of running under my belt now, if training goes well, hopefully I’ll be available, that’s the goal.
“I’ve just been hoping to be back training this week, and hopefully that goes well. I’ve been working with Fergal Kerin and the medical staff at Leinster, they’ve been brilliant, the surgeon did a good job obviously, and I’ve just been given targets to hit each week and been told ‘once you hit this strength target you can progress on to this’, so it hasn’t been rushing back, it’s been systematic, ticking boxes.”
On a night when players from Irish teams failed to pick up any individual awards, despite having all four provinces in the play-offs and Leinster, Munster and Ulster reaching the semi-finals over the weekend, Edinburgh’s Fijian back row Bill Mata was crowned the Guinness PRO14 Players’ Player of the Season while Glasgow Warriors fly-half Adam Hastins was voted the young player of the season.
LIST OF WINNERS
Bill Mata (Edinburgh)
Kieran Crowley (Benetton Rugby)
Ross Ford (Edinburgh)
Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors)
Jaco van der Walt (Edinburgh)
Rabz Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs)
James King (Ospreys)
Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues)
Tian Schoeman (Toyota Cheetahs).