Johann van Graan arrives at Munster with no head coaching experience
Rassie Erasmus will remain on to facilitate a changeover before leaving in November
South African Johann van Graan has been appointed as the new Munster head coach. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
New Munster coach Johann van Graan comes highly recommended on a contract up to June 2020. The honest Rassie Erasmus recently stated he wanted van Graan on the Springboks team he is about to take over but the fact remains that, from November, the new coaching structure will have an average age of 35.
By December’s end there will be nobody in Limerick with head coaching experience at any level. The province has also moved away from their stated long term policy of needing a Director of Rugby. Seemingly, van Graan will have exactly the same responsibilities as the outgoing Erasmus despite being significantly less experienced when it comes to recruitment and contract negotiations.
“Rugby was the focal point of this process and in Johann we are getting a recognised rugby intellectual with a proven track record and extensive experience working with a national side,” said Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald.
It’s conceivable that the IRFU influence in the province, namely that of Performance Director David Nucifora, will increase when it comes to non-coaching matters.
“Johann is an exciting addition to our coaching team and we are delighted to welcome him to Irish rugby,” said Nucifora.
No question over who is in charge.
As far as trades go, this initially looks lob-sided, albeit significantly less expensive for Munster, as van Graan becomes “head coach” with plenty of time to ensure a smooth transition before Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber return to South Africa.
Van Graan is still only 37 but in 2014 then Springbok head coach Heyneke Meyer was asked about the young man he had mentored from video analyst at the Blue Bulls to international forwards coach: “When I appointed him, nobody knew who he was. It was a risk I took. But to be honest it was probably the best appointment I’ve ever made.”
Hence the calculated risk by Fitzgerald and Nucifora (both of whom can point to impressive track records when it comes to coaching appointments).
Jerry Flannery is 38, Felix Jones 30 so appointing a Stuart Lancaster-type figure, who solved similar concerns at Leinster, may be imminent.
Head coach, senior coach, director of rugby – confused?
It is also apparent that Dave Wessels was Munster’s first choice. Erasmus even stated he thought the deal was done until Wessels took the Melbourne Rebels job.
There is scope for van Graan to add to the Munster backroom, which recently promoted Flannery from scrum to forwards coach while Jones has taken on increased responsibility since it was revealed that Erasmus and Nienaber are leaving.
The Springboks arrive in Dublin to play Ireland on November 11th without their forwards coach as van Graan is expected to be in Limerick awaiting clearance on a work permit. That can take anything up three weeks, as was the case of Jaco Taute. Either way, Munster have their new man, who is roundly described as a technically excellent coach.
“Players don’t respond anymore to a coach that shouts at them,” said Meyer, “and that’s where he is so good. He’s a people person, and they respond to him very well. He is the type of guy who will always remember your birthday, who will listen to your problems and the players like that.”
However, the Munster press release adds: “This appointment has resulted in the restructuring of the coaching ticket, with Johann taking on the same responsibilities as Rassie Erasmus.”
Same, same but different. Maybe the “restructuring” is a reference to the huge loss of Nienabar as defence coach. Either way, the quality of coach the IRFU just hired is not in question. His experience is. So much so that van Graan missed out on the Blue Bulls job, under the chief executive Barend van Graan, his father, when former All Black and USA coach John Mitchell was recently appointed.
Still, if South Africa’s head coach Allister Coetzee temper tantrum last month over suggestions that van Graam was leaving is any indication, Munster have got themselves something from the Erasmus departure that Springbok rugby was loathe to let go.