“I think you’re still on mute!”
Sitting at home but with a Zoom background bedecked in red, Munster badges and adidas logos, Johann Van Graan was reacquainted with the Irish media [some more tech-savvy than others!] and their much more sombre vistas. During an hour-long chat, the Munster head coach touched on Covid-19, communities, sad goodbyes, bizarre hellos, and squeezed in a funny tale about new signing Roman Salanoa.
Munster had recruited well before the pandemic forced this elongated pause in the 2019/20 season. Damian De Allende, RG Snyman and Matt Gallagher were already secured but Van Graan was able to convince Leinster prop Roman Salanoa that his future lay at Thomond Park.
The Hawaiian forward made three appearances for Leinster, earlier in the season, and looked to have a bright future with the Blues but opted to follow the likes of Joey Carbery and Andrew Conway down the N7 to Limerick.
Roman Salanoa (centre) sits alongside Scott Fardy on the Leinster bench. (Credit: Sportsfile)
“Roman made his decision and we can’t judge him,” Leinster assistant coach Felipe Contepomi reflected last week. “It is just a personal decision. He knows the reasons why.
“It is a good environment for them to develop here and become the best they can be. Maybe he didn’t see that that was his case in Leinster but I like to think we are creating a good environment for people to thrive and get to their best. Hopefully there will be other guys in line who will take his place.”
Salanoa will challenge the likes of John Ryan and Stephen Archer for a starting berth in the Munster XV and Van Graan is delighted to have such a promising new recruit.
The 23-year-old has been training with a pod of Munster forwards and will only get to meet the entire squad – all going well – on July 27 when they return from two ‘down’ weeks.
Van Graan has had an opportunity to speak with Salanoa and he recalls an interesting question that he will not soon forget. He tells us:
“With Roman, he came up the highway from Dublin and here’s a nice story about him. He’s staying close to the Shannon River and he asked me, ‘Is it okay if I can swim in there?’ I said, ‘You’re very welcome but absolutely not, it’s too cold!’ But he’s adapted very well.”
The River Dodder does wind its’ way close to Leinster’s training campus at UCD, in Belfield, so perhaps Salanoa was used to stripping off after tough sessions for a refreshing dip.
“All four have settled in well and I think we’ll only see what they’ll bring from a rugby point of view in the coming weeks,” Van Graan added.
“Everybody knows the ambition and the dreams we have as a club and I think it’s important to know that if you look at the four individuals, they all come from championship-winning teams and that’s something that we want to become and in our recruitment it’s very important for me to get more those players in to add to what we have at Munster Rugby.”
“We stated that we wanted to keep the Munsterness of Munster, but also add to that, and we’ve got two World Cup winners coming in. They have won a Rugby Championship together with a World Cup. Roman has been part of a very successful Leinster team and Matt’s been part of a very successful Saracens team. So that’s giving us more Championship-winning experience.”
“That will hopefully come in time but in terms of what they can add right now is adding in small groups and hopefully being fit for that first game because the only thing we’re aiming for is that first game, to literally get back onto the pitch and play a game of rugby.”
That first game of rugby is set to be against Leinster – Roman Salanoa’s old team – on August 22 at the Aviva Stadium. Another added layer to an already fascinating story.
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