Van Graan says it’s all about Ireland at this stage

Simon Zebo with Ronan O'Mahony during Munster training yesterday.

Johann van Graan has been delighted at the way Ireland have pieced victory after victory together over the past six weeks and can now complete the Six Nations Grand Slam by beating England at Twickenham on Saturday.

The Munster coach relied on the television screen back home in Castleconnell to savour the wins over France, Italy and Wales before bringing his wife and two young sons to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday last for the latest success over Scotland.

While thrilled at the progress made by his adopted country, van Graan was also keeping his fingers firmly crossed that his Munster players would escape injury and report fully fit for the crucial European Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 games lying immediately in wait once the Six Nations comes to an end.

“I enjoyed the games very much starting with France in Paris, that drop-kick in the last play of the game turned out to be massive in the context of the Six Nations,” van Graan said. “I was at the Ireland-Scotland match on Saturday, I brought my family and even though it wasn’t my own country, it was nice to be there as spectators and we enjoyed it.

I was glad the Munster players played their part. It looks like a happy Irish team, a very well coached team, to win the Six Nations with one round left and to be able to go for the Grand Slam is a massive achievement.

The South African made light of the fact that there were only four Munstermen in the Irish 23 last Saturday or that those who felt aggrieved at being omitted might come back with a chip on their shoulders.

I don’t think it’s about proving a point. I believe the Irish squad is a very busy squad at this stage. A very tight unit. There are quite a few Munster guys, numbers 24, 25, 26, who work with the team and eight or nine guys constantly with the Irish set-up.

Van Graan tries to put to one side his fear of injuries to the Munster players in the Ireland setup but isn’t altogether successful.

After all, he lost Chris Farrell last November in the game against Argentina and again at a training session after the Welsh game a couple of weeks ago. At much the same time Chris Cloete smashed his arm playing for Munster.

So you can imagine his concern when watching Conor Murray writhing on the ground and clutching his knee during the game against Wales. Fortunately, that situation wasn’t as serious as first thought.

“While injuries are part and parcel of the game, it would be nice if they didn’t happen but that’s the nature of the beast and at this stage Ireland comes first. They’re in a massive competition and we hope that our players and all players come through safely.

“We have lost a few guys throughout the season. Obviously, both Chrises are big setbacks for us, number one players in their positions, Jaco Taute is also out but you can’t stop it happening. In midfield, we only have Dan Goggin at this stage with Sammy (Arnold) and Rory (Scannell) both with Ireland. We’ll try to improvise for Edinburgh this week and hopefully later in the week we’ll have some players released back to us. We try to make plans and we’ve got players in Munster that we believe in so we’ll look to be creative over the next 11 weeks,”

Van Graan is reconciled to being without his Ireland stars until the European Cup game against Toulon on April 1 so squad depth will again be tested for the game against Scarlets at Thomond Park on Saturday week.

“The next time we play as a unit will be against Toulon. Three days of training and then the quarter-final. I guess it’s the same for all teams in Ireland and we’ve known that for a while. It’s just the way it is. At this stage, the Six Nations guys come first. It’s a good system in Ireland because you need to look at player welfare, guys need a break physically as well as mentally.”

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