“It was quite a while since I’ve to up at 4.25am to watch a rugby game, but it was brilliant.”
Munster head coach Johann van Graan believes the team to get their breakdown strategy right can prosper when rugby returns.
The South African is tipping away from home while the Munster senior squad are on their final block of time off before rugby’s return comes clearly into focus. The senior stars will return to Munster’s High Performance Centre at the University of Limerick, next Monday, and the August 22 league game against Leinster will be circled red in the calendar.
Van Graan and his squad were separated for over 14 weeks, due to the advice of government and health officials here, but all were reunited – one block at a time – in late June. During the lockdown period, he was thankful for Super Rugby Aotearoa coverage from New Zealand.
“It was like in the old days like when the Springboks played New Zealand and you watched those games early, early in the morning,” says van Graan.
“New Zealand, some fascinating games, specifically New Zealand, I think it’s important to note that it’s not changes in law, it’s, just being more strict on the way that the laws have been refereed.”
Van Graan says Munster have held discussions with World Rugby and Guinness PRO14 officials about areas that may be focused on when the game returns. “I think the first two weekends of our competitions,” he says. ” you might see a whole lot of penalties because, to be fair to the referees that referee our games haven’t refereed for six or seven months so it’ll take time for them to get used to it as well.”
“Look,” van Graan continues, “it’s all about quick ball, the main priority stays the tackler. The tackler’s got to get out of there east to west, that priority hasn’t changed.”
The 40-year-old, who took over from Rassie Erasmus in November 2017, believes the team that master their breakdown strategy will be well set.
“I think the team that adapt the best to the carrier, and what he can do in that one dynamic movement… is the jackler. I think the role of the jackler is going to be massive. You’re going to have to look at your selection, because you’ve got to make sure that you get jacklers into your team.
“Also your planning has to how you look at opposition teams because the jacklers are going to be big, big talking points in games and then the third thing is your arriving players – you know rugby is a game for people playing on the feet. So the term ‘Drive Not Dive’ is going to be pretty important.
“In my view it’s going to be the same for all teams. The teams that adapt the best maybe in the first few rounds will be the teams that get that get the most amount of calls going for them across the season. It’s important that we adapt and it’s real important to note that this is a theme, all over the world it’s not per competition. All across the world, we need to make sure we we make our game better and you know, as a club we’ve got that responsibility.”
Those jackal comments from van Graan, and the arrival of RG Snyman to bolster the second row, could change the make-up of the Munster back row. With Tadhg Beirne looking ‘incredibly well’ after his injury at Allianz Park, late last year, the versatile forward is worth a run at blindside. That would see captain Peter O’Mahony shift to openside, a position he has proved more than capable in.
JJ Hanrahan is likely to start the first two games of the new season, and Joey Carbery may not be risked after his recent injury woes. Munster’s other big call is in midfield, with World Cup winner Damian De Allende in to mix it up in midfield with Rory Scannell, Chris Farrell and Dan Goggin.
OUR MUNSTER XV
1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. RG Snyman
5. Jean Kleyn
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Peter O’Mahony
8. CJ Stander
9. Conor Murray
10. Joey Carbery
11. Keith Earls
12. Damian De Allende
13. Chris Farrell
14. Andrew Conway
15. Mike Haley
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Jeremy Loughman, Roman Salanoa, Fineen Wycherley, Chris Cloete, Craig Casey, Rory Scannell, Matt Gallagher.
Munster also have the likes of Jack Cowley, Thomas Ahern, Jake Flannery, Ben Healy, John Hodnett, Keynan Knox, Sean French, Jonathan Wren and more pressing for game-time with the senior squad.
On paper, it is all coming together nicely for Munster. We will see how it plays out in the conclusion of this season, rolling into 2020/21.