Brendan Fanning: “At the end of Johann van Graan’s reign, Munster’s prop list is in a sorry state”
When it became clear last Saturday night that Toulouse would be heading home and back to Dublin just five days later, swapping opponents in red for opponents in blue, one wondered if they would rip up their plane tickets and stay there for the week.
Ravel tops the list of pet haters for competitive athletes. In a small-margin game, you’re sacrificing preparation or downtime for a bus, an airport, a plane, another bus, and a hotel room you just might not settle into, and it saps your body and mind.
Then you thought how Munster would love to fly long-haul economy if it meant spending another day in a competition where they are part of its structure. It was a great game against a perfect backdrop, fitting in with other great days for Munster.
They played right on the fringes and for the first time in a long time their fans felt the team was in their rightful place. The remarkable thing was that they survived there without crowding.
For a while you felt like you could get away with it – after coming back from a 14-7 deficit to build a 24-14 lead in the last quarter, maybe this would be one of those days when scrums are relatively tight are. So Toulouse’s chances of causing damage would be limited.
Then, with less than six minutes to go, three down but with Rory Arnold back from the bin, they packed for a scrum in Munster’s left corner.
A severe shunt earned them a penalty, their third scrum penalty of the game. Instead of going for what Muster feared at the moment – another scrum – they asked Thomas Ramos to level the game with a tricky kick, which he managed.
After five years as Munster’s head coach, Johann van Graan knows exactly how important a scrum is if you want to win trophies.
He also knew in advance the limitations of working in the Irish system where producing players for the Irish team is part of the provinces’ job.
So you can’t just go out and buy four South African props and tick the Scrum box.
But by the end of his reign, Munster’s list of props is in a state of disrepair.
Stephen Archer is a solid head to start with, which is a testament both to the 34-year-old’s consistency – 247 games for the province at the sharp end of such a tough sport is a magnificent achievement – and the failure of the system.
His replacement, John Ryan, moves elsewhere at the end of the season.
It’s hard to fathom that South African import Keynan Knox and Hawaiian Roman Salanoa haven’t kicked in the door for a long time.
Saturday was particularly difficult for Van Graan to be so close to a semi-final spot. He’s a hard worker and surely everyone thinks they desperately want to finish with a material sign of success.
But does anyone think leaving him outside the house after triggering the six-month release clause in his contract was the right thing to do?
The exit exits on these deals are designed to relieve pressure and not flood the place with fear. Rather than welcoming the news that another Munster coaching appointment was down, it certainly made sense to focus on the silver lining, not the cloud.
If Johann van Graan had been a conservative, unimaginative and unsuccessful coach for four and a half years, the time to salvage the situation was surely the morning after he told CEO Ian Flanagan he was packing his bags.
Flanagan had two options: offer to pay him on the spot, or politely ask him to stay in the background and hand over head coaching duties to apparent heir apparent Graham Rowntree, initially on a caretaker basis. What they landed was floating land.
This was complicated by the inevitable departure of Van Graan acolytes alongside the head coach towards Bath: defensive coach JP Fereira, flanker Chris Cloete and full-back Matt Gallagher.
Meanwhile, in England’s West Country, a handful of their trainers were and are marking the time until Van Graan’s arrival.
You would wonder if the two clubs could not have found a discreet solution to optimize the time remaining on contracts that were being counted down.
As for Toulouse, yes they considered in advance the option of staying a week in Dublin and yes the prospect of skipping a busy day of travel on Thursday was attractive.
However, that’s what it was like to return to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport just after midnight last Saturday, sleeping in their own beds and not having to nail down alternative training facilities.
And that’s before you get to the cost/availability of a decent Dublin hotel for about 50 people.
They had a two-day mini-camp in the Pyrenees early last week after the top-14 game against La Rochelle, which made a lot of work easier.
Mentally, it gave players reason to prepare for what was to come. It allowed them to be accurate in a few key areas, if not the collapse then certainly the scrum and off the tee.
That’s what you need at the sharp end of big competitions. That’s what makes them champions.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/munster-rugby/at-the-end-of-johann-van-graans-reign-munsters-prop-roster-is-in-a-sorry-state-41639434.html Brendan Fanning: “At the end of Johann van Graan’s reign, Munster’s prop list is in a sorry state”