The right recruitment is pivotal to Munster’s and van Graan’s future

We’re coming to the time of year when a coach and organisation start making hard decisions when it comes to player recruitment.

Munster, for example, will be making decisions with regards to who stays, who heads off and who, potentially, comes in around this time of year so it’s a stressful time to say the least. Managing a squad is one of the hardest parts of the game.

Every coach is different with regards to what they want from a squad of players. Every coach, however, will know where his squad is falling below the level that he needs to get results.

Ian Keatley is on his way out of Munster ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Results are the lifeblood of any coaching staff regardless of what anyone says – just ask Bernard Jackman – so the here and now, the first team squad’s development, will naturally be the primary focus.

The coach’s game plan needs will determine recruitment as far as the first team is concerned based on a few KPIs. Those KPIs can range from a specific style requirement or a player not meeting standards set by the coach relative to how much they’re being paid.

Essentially, depending on the type of game you’re trying to play, certain players will show as being incapable of performing in the manner required while eating up budget so you need to replace them with players that can. That process is more complicated than it seems.

When you’re looking to recruit in a position you have to consider the qualities of the player you’re bringing in relative to the guys you already have in the position you’re looking to bolster.

Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne have been massive signings for Munster this season ©INPHO/James Crombie

Then you have to consider the contract cost of the guy you’re potentially letting run out compared to the guy you’re bringing in with the lads you have in the academy as a factor too.

If tighthead lock X is on €80,000 a year and you want to replace him with an international tighthead lock for €180,000 a year you’ll have to make a good case to the IRFU and ensure that the signing isn’t going to deny a potential Irish international game time.

If you have a hot prospect tighthead lock in the academy, you have to measure the period between the time of your immediate need and when that player can reasonably be expected to start making match day squads.

For example, if Munster had a hot prospect second row in Year One of the academy that they felt he could have a James Ryan-esque type impact in three years, you might get dispensation to sign an international tighthead lock on a two-year-deal to help bring him along in training and eventually help launch him into the side.

Munster Rugby Squad Training, UL, Limerick 7/12/2019 Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

That’s the best mix of developing academy players and keeping the first team ticking over with the quality they need to stay competitive relative to your goals.

Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, but without a crystal ball it’s the way it has to go as far as recruitment strategy is.

Van Graan, by now, will have very clear ideas regarding who fits his vision for Munster Rugby and who doesn’t.

Munster head coach is beginning to shape the squad he wants for the long term ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

When he joined in November of last year, much of the contract work for retaining, recruiting and releasing had already been done or all but done.

This year is the first time that van Graan can begin to shape the squad as he likes based on what he’s seen in-game and in-training.

He’ll have seen who adds to standards in training and keeps the momentum going in the first team when called upon and who doesn’t.

The former will get retained until they get better or he can find someone internally or externally who is better. The latter see out the end of their deal and seek pastures new. You can already see some of the work starting to take shape.

He helped recruit Carbery to play at #10 because he realised that we had a quality gap in that position when you considered the type of game he wanted from his flyhalf.

Look at all the fly halves contracted beyond the end of this season and you can already see a coach shaping a position in a key area.

Carbery, Hanrahan and Johnston are all capable of playing the type of “A” game that Van Graan requires and it remains to be seen if Bleyendaal will be retained as a result. Keatley is on his way to Italian side Benetton Treviso.

That’s just one example of how a coach shapes a position in the first team down the depth chart. You have a clear #1 – Carbery – a #2 in Hanrahan and a talented #3 in Bill Johnston who has two years to make the most of the opportunities he’ll be given.

Van Graan will already have begun to assess Munster’s weaknesses this season and begin to run the rule over potential areas where he can recruit. Midfield will be a key area of attention.

Remember that Jaco Taute is out of contract this season and supposedly on his way to Leicester, so there is probably scope to bring in some international quality to fill the ball carrying and experience quotient that every side needs in a backline.

How will van Graan have assessed this potential weakness? Well, there’ll be numbers to support his thinking but mostly it’ll be based on the patterns he sees developing in front of him during the game and on the watch back.

He’ll have noted the difference in attacking potency with a guy like Farrell and how lateral we look without him and perhaps decided that he needs a “like for like” guy who can slot at 12/13 to duplicate those qualities and allow Munster to play his preferred game plan all the time rather than some of the time.

There’s no magic bullet for recruitment. A coach has to balance the here and now with the needs of the club in three/five years when he or she may not even be involved.

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Tom Savage

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