Munster will most likely be seeking a new head and a new defence coach in addition to a new attack coach after the province confirmed the departure of Johann van Graan at the end of the season.
Akin to the departing Stephen Larkham, van Graan was offered a new two-year contract and discussions were at an advanced stage. But as with Larkham, who is being lured home by the opportunity to become head coach at his former franchise the Brumbies next year, van Graan has now also decided to reject Munster’s two-year offer to seek pastures new, almost certainly with Bath. One Irish Times source says that a deal with the West Country club has been done.
The expectation must be that wherever he pitches up, Van Graan will bring the defence coach JP Fereira with him. It will be interesting to see how van Graan’s impending departure may or may not affect Munster’s contract negotiations with their Springboks’ playing contingent, given World Cup winners Damian de Allende and RG Snyman, along with the once-capped lock cum backrower Jason Jenkins, are all out of contract at the end of the season and all were signed by van Graan.
Furthermore, as with the departing van Graan and Larkham, the current contracts of both Ferreira and forwards coach Graham Rowntree also expire at the end of the season.
Having joined the province in November 2017 following the departure of Rassie Erasmus, who had previously been even more firmly on record in stating that he would be staying with Munster before deciding to return to South Africa, van Graan is in his fifth and now final season with Munster.
Pat Lam freely admitted that there were financial imperatives in putting his family when first when lured by Bristol form Connacht, as well as the undoubted attraction of overseeing a ‘project’ with a club then in the Championship.
If van Graan is to take over at Bath, then clearly there will have been financial considerations at play given the club’s backing by owner Bruce Craig and primary sponsor James Dyson, reckoned to be the wealthiest man in the West Country, would outstrip any offer from the IRFU and Munster. And so be it. It’s a professional industry and for coaches especially, a precarious one.
Bath is a beautiful city and Craig has financed magnificent facilities, but in his decade at the helm the club have won nothing, and have steadily declined in recent years. Too much chopping and changing at coaching level has led to a lack of continuity. They sit marooned at the bottom of the table without a win of any kind this season.
Van Graan said: “While I was at advanced stages in the contract process earlier this year, I took a step back and reconsidered my options, prioritising what’s best for my family, myself, and Munster Rugby.
“My family and I settled well into life here, this is our home, and in an ideal world we would love to continue living in Limerick, but I’ve been looking at the bigger picture.
“After arriving during the 2017/18 season, I am now into my fifth season with this group and in putting Munster first I believe it’s the right decision for me to call time on my contribution and step away at the end of this season.
“While we have achieved so much together, and still have over six months of the season remaining, I wanted any uncertainty about my future addressed as early as possible.
“Working with this coaching team, staff, and players we are always striving to do our best for Munster Rugby, and nothing will change on that front.
“It has been an incredible journey and I’m hugely proud of this group for everything we have done to-date knowing there is so much more to come as we move towards the business end of the season.”
Munster Rugby chief Ian Flanagan added: “We will be disappointed to see Johann go at the end of the season, he will be widely missed after forming such close relationships across the organisation.
“Johann has been a valued addition to the province and integral to all the successes we have achieved over the past four years.
“His hands-on approach and tireless work ethic have ensured the structures are well in place for continued success and we know he will continue to deliver on all fronts for the remainder of the season.
“For now, we are working closely with the IRFU in looking to identify suitable replacements with the confirmed departures of both Johann and Steve (Stephen Larkham) next summer.”
The Munster statement hailed van Graan for providing “much needed stability” across their HPC in aligning the senior and academy structures as well as the retinue of young players who have come through under his watch and signings such as Snyman, de Allende, Joey Carbery, Alby Mathewson, Mike Haley, and Simon Zebo.
It also noted that van Graan is the second longest-serving Munster coach of the professional era, during which time Munster have reached two Champions Cup semi-finals, three league semi-finals, and a Pro14 final earlier this year.
But, of course, no silverware. So far.