“All Teams Are Back To Zero Points.” – Johann Van Graan Outlines Munster’s Ambitions For This Season

Elusive.

It’s been a mixed few seasons for Munster under head coach Johann van Graan. The southern province have brought in exciting coaching talent in Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree, as well as making some excellent signings in Damian de Allende, RG Snyman, Chris Cloete, Mike Haley and Joey Carbery.

But while things have looked good mostly throughout those seasons, come the business end, Munster have failed to deliver.

Semi-final defeats have become tiresome and frustrating both domestically and in Europe with the province last winning a trophy way back in 2011. You have to go back as far as 2008 for a European crown.

This season, however, is like no other – only a few weeks backs Munster were taking on Leinster in a PRO14 semi-final and now they’re already beginning a brand new season following the disruption to fixtures across the world.

But the goal remains the same, getting past that elusive semi-final and bringing some much-needed silverware back to Limerick.

“I think from a league point of view all teams are back to zero points,” van Graan told us this week when we asked him to outline Munster’s ambitions for the season.

“In order to get yourself into the play-off games, you’ve got to perform consistently week in, week out. You’ve got to put yourself in a position to get into a semi-final which we’ve done for the last four seasons.

“And then hopefully improve as the season goes to get a positive result in a semi-final and get into a final but that’s a very long way away.

“There are a few different blocks coming up, we’ve got two weeks with the whole squad then a whole host of players will go to the national team but the bulk of our squad will remain behind.

“Guys then come back the Monday before the Champions Cup and then you’ve got two Champions Cup games, three inter-pros, two more Champions Cup games and then there’s a Six Nations with some PRO14 games and then you’re into April.

“So it’s a long way to go.”

An area that has come under criticism in recent years is Munster’s sparse use of their academy system. More often than not they have looked overseas to fill gaps, with marquees signings and short-term Super Rugby stop gaps used instead of homegrown talent.

But that’s going to change this year with the province finally beginning to follow the hugely successful Leinster model of promoting within and giving players a chance, no matter the age.

“We believe that we have got a very good crop of youngsters coming through that will not only play in these games but perform in these games,” van Graan added.

“Because there is a big difference between being selected and actually performing in a big game.

“Somebody like, I don’t want to name-drop certain guys, but someone like John Hodnett will definitely come close to our starting European team, someone like Craig Casey, Ben Healy, Jack Crowley, and Jake Flannery.

“We’ve added to the squad with Roman Salanoa, Keynan Knox is a year further along the line, Matt Gallagher is with the team, someone like Liam Coombes performed on the weekend.

“You have got guys who can be really special players but need a bit more time, someone like Thomas Ahern. We believe that we are improving not only the academy group but the squad. So we’d like to believe from a playing group that we’re better equipped a year on.”

Another big season for Munster and one that they and all their fans will be hoping ends in a final at the very least, maybe even two. Maybe even a bit of silverware for a dusty cabinet that certainly needs some love.