SA Rugby has confirmed that Springbok forwards coach Johann van Graan has been released from his contract to join Irish province Munster as their new head coach.
Van Graan has spent the last six seasons as Springbok forwards coach, but has signed a deal with Munster until 2020 — to fill the role which has been vacant since the untimely death of Anthony Foley a year ago.
The 37-year-old Van Graan was first appointed to the national team role ahead of the 2012 Test season by former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, with whom he has enjoyed a close working relationship going back to their time at the Bulls.
Van Graan worked alongside Meyer during a time when the Bulls won three Super Rugby titles, in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux thanked Van Graan for his services to the Springboks.
“Johann has proven himself as an outstanding coach and he has a very bright future ahead of him,” said Roux in a press release confirming Van Graan’s departure on Wednesday.
“The Munster appointment is an excellent opportunity for him to test and prove himself as a head coach in a very competitive European club rugby environment.
“I have no doubt that Johann will be successful in his new role and the next chapter of his coaching career. From SA Rugby’s side, we would like to wish him and his young family all of the best.”
Van Graan will find familiar faces at the Thomond Park-based team. Rassie Erasmus (who continues to be rumoured as the Springbok coach-in-waiting) is director of rugby while another South African in Jacques Nienaber will serve as his defence coach.
His erstwhile boss, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, praised Van Graan for his contribution to the Springboks: “I’ve had the pleasure of working very closely with Johann for the past two seasons, he is a very good man and I know first-hand why he is so highly rated.
“He is highly competent, extremely hard working and his attention to detail is one of his great strengths. He has a great passion for coaching and I have no doubt that he has all the makings of a very good head coach. I want to wish him well in his new role,” said Coetzee.
As can be expected, Van Graan is excited about the new challenge, not least because SA Rugby have allowed him to join the Irish side a few weeks before the Springboks leave for their end-of-year tour to Europe.
“I was fortunate enough to be part of the Springboks for the past six years and 69 Tests so far, which was an incredible journey up to now,” explained Van Graan.
Van Graan described his involvement with the Springboks so far as the highlight of his coaching career. “To the members of the Springbok management, words can’t describe my gratitude towards all of you, especially my fellow coaches, who are all fantastic people.
“The Springboks are a big part of my life and I was blessed to coach some of the best players in the world. The training and matches were important, but even more so, the times we spent together, and the friendships I have made is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
“I will always look back with gratitude, but now I am looking forward with real excitement towards the next chapter of my life. To all the players: ‘Memories are all we have!'”