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What makes a head coach? | Matt Williams on Van Graan and Munster

Former Leinster and Ulster coach Matt Williams spoke about the Munster coaching staff and Johann ...



What makes a head coach? | Mat...
Rugby

What makes a head coach? | Matt Williams on Van Graan and Munster

Former Leinster and Ulster coach Matt Williams spoke about the Munster coaching staff and Johann van Graan as a head coach on OTB AM on Tuesday.

After their third consecutive loss to Leinster in the semi-finals of the PRO 14, fans of the men in red have reason to criticise head coach Van Graan and his staff.

Williams, though, thinks that there are positives to take out of Van Graan’s tenure up to this point.

“Finishing in the semi-finals is not a disgrace,” he said.

“There are lots of teams around Europe that would give their right arm to be finishing in the semi-finals of their domestic league and the Heineken Cup every year for 10 years.”

This role with Munster is Van Graan’s first role as a head coach.

The 40-year-old had previously worked his way up from technical advisor to assistant coach with the Bulls in South Africa, before eventually becoming the forwards coach of the Springboks.

While at the Bulls, Van Graan assisted Heyneke Meyer (2007) and Frans Ludeke (2010 and 2011) to lift the then-Super 14 trophy.

He was also the only member of Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok coaching staff to survive the switch to new coach Allister Coetzee in 2016.

Despite this experience as an assistant coach and technical advisor, Van Graan is still growing as a head coach.

“Munster went with a young coach, they went with coach Van Graan, who is unproven as a head coach,” Williams said.

“He’s made his mistakes, for sure, like we all do.

“Everyone that steps into being a head coach, you’re going to make mistakes when you’re the boss, that’s the deal.”

Williams thins that the South African needs greater support from those around him.

“I think coach Van Graan got a lot of things wrong last week,” he said. “Should he be sacked? No.

“Should there be some guidance given to him? I like to think there would be.”

Munster manager Johann van Graan prior to the Guinness PRO14 Round 14 match between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin Munster head coach Johann van Graan prior to the Guinness PRO14 Round 14 match between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Munster’s coaching staff consists of Van Graan, as well as experienced coaches Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree.

Williams believes that Larkham and Rowntree should also be criticised for Munster’s failed game plan against Leinster.

“He’s got two very experienced and very smart guys in his staff, so I don’t know what goes on within those four walls, but they all got it wrong.

“You’re never going to beat Leinster like that. You’re never in a hundred years going to beat them like that.”

Larkham in particular has a history of coaching teams with strong attacking backlines, with a focus on passing and intricate backline moves.

Under his coaching, the Brumbies went from the fourth best Australian team in Super Rugby to joint top alongside the Reds.

He also improved Australia's attacking flair when he was appointed backline coach in 2015.

“On the evidence of last Friday, Stephen Larkham will be hiding under his bed with his pillow over his head,” Williams said.

“I coached against Stephen for years and watched him coach for both the Wallabies and the Brumbies, he is an attacking coach.

“He’s a runner of the ball, and I saw last year plenty of Stephen Larkham over that Munster side."

Conor Murray of Munster in conversation with Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham ahead of the Guinness PRO14 Round 14 match between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin Conor Murray of Munster in conversation with Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham ahead of the Guinness PRO14 Round 14 match between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Coaching philosophies

The two different style and coaching philosophies between Van Graan and Larkham could be the issue, according to Williams.

He believes that it is the head coach’s job to meld the different philosophies into a successful game plan for the side.

“A coaching team is just that. It’s a team and it should integrate like the wheels of cogs,” Williams said.

“You have to choose very carefully, because if you don’t you get clashes and you get mismatches.

“Munster have gone with a South African philosophy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“It is a very different philosophy to what Stephen Larkham has been brought up with at the Brumbies.

“The way the Brumbies ran the ball, their detailed planning on attack, it’s totally different to the physicality and the pure rush attack and defence that South Africans have employed so well.”

Munster coach Johann van Graan prior to the Guinness PRO14 Round 14 match between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium in Dubli Munster coach Johann van Graan prior to the Guinness PRO14 Round 14 match between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Leinster, on the other hand, have a group of coaches with the same type of philosophy, which has been cultivated through familiarity with one another.

“If you go to Leinster, Leo [Cullen], Felipe [Contepomi] and Emmet Farrell have all worn the jersey and all played together,” Williams said.

“I know you’ve got Stuart [Lancaster] in there who is English, but the whole philosophy of that Leinster coaching group has been forged over 20 years.

“So, they’re very comfortable with each other, they’ve known each other and played together for a long time.

“That doesn’t mean Munster hasn’t got it, but they’ve got to build it and grow it.”

Williams thinks that the longer Munster’s coaching staff stay together, the easier it will be for them to meld their philosophies.

He suggested that now is not the time to panic for Munster supporters.

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Coaching Graham Rowntree Johann Van Graan Matt Williams Munster Stephen Larkham