'I’m looking forward to the nights and weeks when that will click' - Johann Van Graan
Rory Scannell with out the back passes and Peter O'Mahony tossing no-look flicks to teammates. This was Munster but not as we know them.
This season, with Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree now in-situ with the coaching staff, Munster are attempting a change in playing style. There were 10 offloads from Munster players in their Champions Cup draw with Racing, with Keith Earls (3) and CJ Stander (2) leading the way.
It did not always come off (see that O'Mahony flick that landed in the clutches of a Racing forward) but there were moments that caused Racing trouble. By keeping the ball alive more, it could be argued, it led to the French side wilting in the final quarter and set up the comeback that could have been sweetly sealed had JJ Hanrahan landed his drop goal.
Following the game, Munster head coach Johann Van Graan spoke about the changes afoot at the southern province:
"From a Munster growth point of view – we as coach just spoke inside about it – some of the things you’ve seen tonight you would not have seen Munster do in the previous few years. The one lineout where we went off the top, you would have seen from us before. I said a few weeks ago that you’ve got to give this coaching group some time. We’ve only been together for a few weeks and we’re looking long-term, looking to improve this team and the skills of this team.
"Yes, we’re going to throw one or two – like tonight – that are going to lead to turnovers but, from a clinical, rugby point of view, we’ve done some incredible stuff over the past number of weeks. That will take time but we’re encouraging the players to use their skills… One of the things we’ve said is, ‘If you don’t train it, don’t do it’. We’ve trained quite a few things and we did it tonight. I’m looking forward to the nights and weeks when that will click. Hopefully that will be soon."
One thing that has not changed, however, is Munster's straining senior squad. Every professional club must cope with at least 20% of their senior squad being injured, but that percentage is well into the 30s for Van Graan & Co.
Van Graan was asked, post-match, about Munster not having the same squad depth as the likes of Leinster, Saracens and Toulouse. "I think you just control the things that you can," he said.
"I’m very proud of the squad that we’ve built up over the last few seasons. What we’re doing is we’re backing the squad. Ourselves and Leinster are the two teams in the PRO14 are the two teams that have played the most guys from our squads. Obviously, with the more injury issues you get, the more difficult it becomes. What I’ve learned since coming to the northern hemisphere is that it’s incredibly difficult to fight on two fronts, but that’s what Munster is about. We’ll always fight on every front that we have to."
The South African was asked if there was any way he could call 'an emergency' and get World Cup winners Damian De Allende and RG Snyman in sooner than next summer. Van Graan responded:
"All that I’ll say is that we’ve spoken to two players about starting here possibly in seven months’ time. As soon as we have more information, we’ll give that."
Both players are currently playing their club rugby in Japan's 'Top League' but the 2020 season runs from January to May.
It is unlikely that Munster would be able to get the Springboks out of their club commitments in Japan, but there may be wiggle room for a Non Irish-Qualified player to come into the ranks, especially that Alby Mathewson is leaving the club.
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Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble are joined by Jerry Flannery in the House of Rugby studio to look back on a winning weekend of Champions Cup rugby, and the imperious form of Leinster.