By Simon Lewis
Conor Murray is backing new head coach Johann van Graan not to implement sweeping change to the Munster game plan as the squad transitions to the new management team.
Munster face old European rivals Leicester Tigers at Thomond Park on Saturday in the first of two pivotal back-to-back pool meetings for their Champions Cup qualification hopes with Murray set to play for the first time under the 37-year-old former Springbok assistant coach, who succeeded countryman Rassie Erasmus last month while scrum-half Murray was on Ireland duty.
A new defence coach will also be appointed in the near future, with JP Ferreira tipped to replace Jacques Nienaber after his Johannesburg-based Super Rugby franchise the Lions revealed he was in talks with the Irish province.
That would ordinarily signal a change of direction but van Graan acknowledges that in this instance, halfway through a season, it would be a rash course of action and Murray warned it would be dangerous to start undoing the foundations Erasmus and Nienaber had put in place at Munster during their 18 months in Limerick.
Several chats between the scrum-half and his new boss have left a good impression on Murray and he said: “You can tell by his knowledge of rugby, it’s unbelievable, but he knows himself, he has ideas he wants to implement but you have to be careful how you do that because what we built up last year with Rassie and Jacques was great and we cannot let go of a lot of that.
“Johann has seen areas he would like to improve but we have to get the balance, seeing where to make changes, but when to implement them and make them as seamless as possible. The playing group understand that.”
Aside from the new arrival, the chief subject of Munster conversation is the transfer talk surrounding provincial and Ireland team-mates Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the futures of the Lions back-row duo beyond next summer, when their current deals expire, may be fraying the nerves of Munster supporters. Yet Murray said it is business as usual within the squad as they prepare for their crucial pool showdowns with old enemies Leicester over the next two Saturdays.
Murray agreed that moving the IRFU’s contract negotiation round into the summer months may relieve some of the stress and allow players to concentrate on performances not pay cheques.
“Maybe that’s a good idea to move it to summer and then you are not playing games, you can fully think about it,” said Murray, whose most recent three-year deal, signed in January 2016, runs until after the 2019 World Cup.
“My last contract was sorted pretty quickly which was great for me, but before when things get dragged out and no one is agreeing and there is a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, it does distract you. You might think it doesn’t but it will get to you at some stage. It is security for your future, whether it be two years, one year, longer or whatever.”
Murray, 28, is set to return to the Munster line-up for Saturday night’s visit of the Tigers following a starring role in Ireland’s Test victories over South Africa and Argentina. And he is grateful it is not his future being discussed at the moment. “You know you are going to crop up and people like to talk about moves, are you going to stay? or whatever. If it does drag out it is a little bit stressful..”
This story first appeared in Irish Examiner sport