All going as predicted, Johann van Graan may be dealing with dual loyalties if Ireland and South Africa clash in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup in Yokohama on Sunday, October 20.
Van Graan has 12 Munster players with the Irish squad in Japan, poised to qualify for the knockout phase as winners of Pool A. Of course, that clash is still the guts of a month away but van Graan couldn’t help but purr at the performance of the Irish no.9 Conor Murray and his provincial colleague CJ Stander in the RWC opener against Scotland last Sunday.
“All credit to Joe (Schmidt) and his team, it’s not how you perform before a World Cup, it’s how you perform once it starts and they seemed to get that spot on”, van Graan declared.
“It was a big game for Conor (Murray) and CJ (Stander) and it was great to see their performance from a Munster viewpoint. I thought it was Conor’s best performance of this calendar year, the way he kicked, the way he defended, his option taking, his support play, it’s great to see him shine on the bigger stage, that’s where he excels.
“I thought CJ was very good. From a Munster team perspective, he started the game very well in the line-out, that turnover scrum and just about everything else. Chris Farrell was excellent, Andrew’s (Conway) work rate, Tadhg (Beirne), Scans (Niall Scannell), Killer (Dave Kilcoyne) … it’s what you like to see in your own players. It’s great to support them from afar.
With Ireland likely to top their pool, as long as they get past Japan on Saturday, and South Africa favourites to come second in Pool B after their defeat to the All Blacks at the weekend, October 20 should see the two face-off in the quarter-finals.
“Ireland v South Africa? It will be fascinating if it works out that way and certainly something to look forward to from an Irish and South Africa perspective. Of course, there is a big Munster involvement in the South African camp, Rassie (Erasmus), Jacques (Nienaber), Felix Jones, Aled Walters, Thomas du Toit. And of course it goes both ways.”
“It’s what happens on the day. Both are fascinating rugby teams and I think both are capable of winning the World Cup. The Ireland and South Africa matches were fabulous starts to the World Cup. The South Africa-New Zealand game was fantastic for its intensity, the way the two teams went at each other, the way South Africa started and the way New Zealand responded in the second twenty. It was also fascinating to see the way the two teams reacted in the second half when it was a real heavyweight tussle.
“For Ireland, Sunday was an incredible performance. They put Scotland under so much pressure and they were unlucky not to be more ahead at half time after the break by CJ when they were unlucky not to score. Their set-piece performance and the way they varied their game and how they kept Scotland down to very few scoring opportunities was very impressive.”
Van Graan clearly reflects the attitude of just about everyone in the Munster camp that they have had enough of all the pre-season training, and a couple of relatively harmless warm-up games against London Irish and Connacht, that Saturday’s clash with the Dragons can hardly come quickly enough.
“We used more than 30 guys in those warm-up games and from the week-end on, we play for points”, he stressed.
“Everybody is raring to go this week-end and obviously some are going to be disappointed because they all want to play the first game of the season. But there are 21 rounds of this competition and we are starting at home and looking for a solid start against the Dragons on Saturday.”